Cases in the American civil justice system generally involve two types of parties: plaintiffs, who file lawsuits, and defendants, against whom lawsuits are filed. Many lawsuits involve just one plaintiff against one defendant, although certain cases may have multiple plaintiffs, multiple defendants, or both.
Typically, in cases involving multiple plaintiffs or defendants, the event giving rise to the lawsuit occurred on one occasion at a specific location. An example would be an automobile accident where a car carrying both a driver and a passenger was rear-ended by a second car that was then rear-ended by a third car. In that case, the driver and passenger of the first car might both be plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the drivers of the other two cars. There would be two plaintiffs and two defendants in a case arising out of a single event at a particular location. Cases like these are commonly known as single-event cases.
Often, however, harm caused by one defendant or a group of defendants occurs to a large number of people over a wide geographic area in similar or identical ways. In such instances, it is impractical for all affected plaintiffs to bring their individual claims in a single lawsuit, but it is likewise inefficient for a number of different courts to hear the same or similar claims against a defendant or group of defendants. In such cases, alternative case structures must be employed to allow the greatest number of affected parties an efficient venue in which to pursue their claims. Two common approaches are the class action and multidistrict litigation.
Class Action Lawsuit
In a class action lawsuit, a limited number of representative plaintiffs will file a complaint alleging that they and other members of the class (of unnamed plaintiffs) have been harmed in the same manner by the actions of the defendant or defendants. Often, the compensation sought as a result of the harm is identical or substantially similar for all members of the class. Settlements of class action cases are approved by the court overseeing the case and bind all members of the class who do not opt-out of the settlement. Members who choose to opt-out may pursue their own individual claims.
Multidistrict Litigation (or MDL)
Multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) occurs when cases involving one or more common questions of fact are pending in different United States District Courts. Often, MDLs are established when a defendant or group of defendants have caused a similar harm that has affected a number of different people in different ways. In such cases, plaintiffs typically have been damaged in ways unique enough that a class action is not appropriate, but pursuing individual claims separately is not efficient or practical.
MDLs, which are exclusive to the federal courts, are comprised of a number of individual cases that are transferred to a single court for coordinated and consolidated pre-trial proceedings. These proceedings include matters such as discovery, expert witness issues, rulings on the legal validity of the litigation as a whole, and the trial of “bellwether” cases where a select number of cases are tried to juries in order for the parties and their attorneys to get an idea of the range of potential compensation that might be awarded in cases involving various types of harm. Current MDLs include cases against a number of metal-on-metal hip replacement manufacturers.
Whereas MDLs are limited to federal courts, in cases where the federal courts do not have jurisdiction one or more state courts may create their own consolidated case structures so that individual claimants can have the same or similar efficiency as afforded those in an MDL. It is not unusual for both an MDL and a state court consolidated proceeding to exist for the same type of case.
If you have been injured in California due to the fault or negligence of another, whether in a single event accident or in the same manner as a large number of others, it is important to consult with an attorney to determine what legal options you may have. The California Injury Attorney Group is available to answer your questions and can help you determine if you are eligible to file a lawsuit. We can also connect you with an attorney affiliated with the California Injury Attorney Group, at no upfront cost to you, who can work to help you pursue compensation for whatever your circumstances may be, in the efforts to get you on the road to recovery. So contact the California Injury Attorney Group today for your free consultation.