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MDL vs Class Action

When individuals suffer harm that affects many people, they may have the option of joining a class action lawsuit or multidistrict litigation (MDL). These legal procedures allow people with similar claims to join forces and pursue justice as a group rather than individually, which reduces the financial burden of litigating against major corporations while also expediting the legal process.

While class actions and MDLs share similarities, it is essential to understand what makes them different so you can make an informed decision on which is appropriate for your case. This article provides an overview of MDLs vs class actions, highlighting the similarities and differences, along with some example cases to help you better understand your legal rights.

What You Need to Know About MDLs vs Class Actions

Class Action Lawsuit Defined

A class action lawsuit is a legal case brought by a group of people, called a class, who have suffered similar harm as a result of the actions of a person or company. Instead of each person filing a separate lawsuit, they join together as a group to pool their resources and strength in numbers. Class actions usually involve a group of plaintiffs seeking “economic” damages (i.e., paid out of pocket for a shoddy or falsely advertised product) rather than personal injury claims.

This type of lawsuit allows individuals with limited means to seek justice against major corporations and hold them accountable for the harm they cause. By combining their claims, the class can present a stronger case and increase their chances of success. If the court finds the defendant liable, meaning they caused harm and should be held responsible, the class members may be entitled to compensation.

Class action lawsuits benefit society by promoting fairness, efficiency, and access to justice for a group of people affected by the same wrongdoing.

Below are two recent examples of class action lawsuits:

H&R Block Class Action Lawsuit: Class action attorneys from Wisner Baum filed a class action lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act against H&R Block, Meta, and Google. This proposed class action alleges the defendants illegally collected and shared sensitive tax data without consent, violating taxpayers’ privacy rights.

Phillips CPAP Class Action Lawsuit: Attorneys filed a class action against Phillips Respironics alleging the company knew about the risks of serious health issues associated with its CPAP devices before issuing a recall. The class action further alleged consumers paid thousands of dollars to replace their machines. The litigation was resolved in 2023 whenPhilips Respironics agreed to a $479 million settlement.

How Class Actions Work

Class action lawsuits usually start when an individual or small group of plaintiffs contend that they and other similarly situated consumers have been harmed by the same deceptive conduct of the defendant (i.e., bank or credit card company charged all its customers illegal or impermissible fees). The class plaintiffs/representatives then ask the Court to certify the case as a class action so that any recovery awarded them would also benefit all other consumers who had been similarly harmed.

For class certification to be granted, usually all class members must have suffered injuries caused by the same conduct of the same party (or parties). The court also considers factors such as the number of potential class members, the strength of the class representative case(s), whether the representatives genuinely represent other class members, and if there are common questions of fact and law raised in the class action.

If class certification is approved and a settlement or favorable resolution is reached, the process of identifying and notifying other class members begins. You may be familiar with class action lawsuit commercials, billboards, and mailers, which are used to inform eligible parties to join the class action suit.

Individuals who demonstrate they have suffered damages similar to those of the class representatives may receive a portion of the class action settlement or award when the case concludes. By participating in the class action, however, they waive their right to sue separately or individually for the alleged damages. Alternatively, they can choose to opt out of the class action lawsuit, preserving their right to file a separate lawsuit concerning the damages in question.

Class action lawsuits often culminate in a settlement before reaching court, but if no settlement is agreed upon, the court hears the class representatives’ cases and issues rulings.

Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) Defined

A multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a legal procedure that helps streamline complex cases involving a large number of people who have been harmed by the same product or situation. Unlike a class action, where individual plaintiffs are consolidated into a single lawsuit, an MDL involves the court grouping together similar cases and adjudicating them in a single court. MDLs usually involve multiple individual “personal injury cases” filed by people who sustained physical injuries from the same product (i.e., a defective drug or medical device) or event (i.e., a commercial aviation accident).

MDLs are used when lawsuits that share similar allegations are filed in different federal courts nationwide. Instead of having each case go through a separate trial, the cases are transferred to a single court, known as the "central" or "transferee" court, to consolidate pretrial proceedings.

This centralization helps save time, money, and resources because it avoids duplicative efforts and allows the parties involved to work together more efficiently. Once the pretrial phase is completed, individual cases may be returned to their original court for trial or resolved through settlement negotiations. The goal of MDL is to provide a fair and effective way to handle complex lawsuits involving many people while ensuring that their rights are protected and that justice is served.

How MDLs Work

An MDL is often a suitable option for complex cases alleging similar injuries or harm against the same defendant. A current example is the Gardasil litigation, which involves allegations of premature ovarian failure and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) after receiving the HPV vaccine.

Other current MDLs involve allegations against the drugs Ozempic and Mounjaro, which have been consolidated in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania before Judge Gene E. K. Pratter, and Suboxone, which has been consolidated in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio before Judge J. Philip Calabrese.

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, comprised of seven federal judges, oversees these cases. The panel was established by a federal law in 1968 to determine whether to consolidate cases into MDL, with all decision-making power resting in the hands of the court, and to reduce the time and cost associated with hearing numerous claims filed against a common defendant.

If the panel grants consolidation, the cases are sent to a single court with a judge assigned to oversee the MDL. Occasionally, this is a judge already presiding over one or more of the cases in a district court, though this is not always the case.

The overseeing MDL judge manages the pretrial proceedings and the discovery process. These stages are often the most time-consuming and costly parts of any mass tort. Since all cases within the MDL share a common basis, it is unnecessary for each attorney to individually request and review documents, depose witnesses, or conduct extensive research, which significantly expedites the legal process.

The most common outcome in an MDL is a settlement, which often happens during the pretrial and discovery stages. In such instances, the judge oversees settlement negotiations for all cases within the MDL. Once a settlement is agreed upon by the parties, individual claimants can choose to accept the settlement terms or continue with their case.

After the discovery process is completed, any remaining cases are usually sent back to the court from where they originated for trial.

Wisner Baum Attorneys for Class Actions and MDLs

Challenging a corporation as an individual is often difficult. Class action lawsuits and MDL cases allow plaintiffs and their lawyers to pool resources, ensuring that all participants receive a court decision within a fraction of the time it would take otherwise.

Whether you are considering joining a class action or an MDL, the legal representation you choose is essential. If you suffered injury or harm from a defective consumer product or wrongful corporate behavior, you may wonder what options you have. While you may initially believe that a class action is the best course of action for your claim, an experienced attorney will evaluate the damages you have suffered and determine if pursuing a class action is appropriate. It is possible that a personal injury case may result in more compensation than being a plaintiff in a class action.

Wisner Baum has earned billions in verdicts and settlements for class action and mass tort clients. We know what it takes to take on any corporate defendant and win. Put your case in the hands of trial-ready litigators with proven results.

To learn more about your legal rights, call 855-948-5098or fill out our free and confidential case evaluation form.


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