Federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) has become a common and familiar procedural setting for pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers facing mass tort product liability litigation. As of May 2019, fifty-one of the sixty-nine active product liability MDLs (74 percent) involved pharmaceutical drugs or medical devices, many of which include hundreds, if not thousands, of plaintiffs.
Multidistrict litigation is intended to promote the just and efficient resolution of a large number of similar cases involving one or more common questions of fact that are pending in different district courts across the country. In these circumstances, cases are consolidated into a single MDL court for pretrial coordination—meaning the MDL becomes a procedural tool for coordinating discovery, minimizing the risk of competing rulings by different courts on the same issues, and encouraging the broad resolution of similar claims.
But MDLs can also incentivize mass filings of meritless cases, making them arguably less efficient and just than intended.