#Product #Liability & Multidistrict #Litigation (#MDL): What You Need to Know

If you have been injured because a product (i) failed to work in the way it was intended to work, (ii) was designed and warranted to perform in a particular fashion and failed to do so because of a design or manufacturing defect, or (iii) failed to contain adequate instructions or warnings, you may have a potential product liability claim against not only the product manufacturer, but the final seller and parties in between.

Product liability is a legal term for holding manufacturers or suppliers accountable for the injuries caused to the people that use their products. Typical product liability lawsuits claim design defects, manufacturing defects and/or marketing defects:

  • A design defect is a flaw in a product’s design causing it to be inherently unsafe even if the product was manufactured correctly.
  • A manufacturing defect is a problem that occurs during the manufacture or assembly of a product.
  • A marketing defect includes either improper or inadequate warning labels or instructions for dangerous products, or misleading marketing and advertisements.

Engineers or other relevant professionals may be engaged to determine if a product that caused injury was dangerous due to a design or manufacturing defect. However, in a product liability lawsuit, any danger needs to be of the nature that a consumer would not expect the product to possess. If an injury occurred as the result of a dangerous characteristic of the product that is readily apparent and/or well-known, you may not obtain recovery for damages in a product liability lawsuit.

Though product manufacturers must exercise reasonable care in developing, testing, and marketing their products, they may be able to reduce or avoid liability for defective products by placing a prominent warning label on a product describing its dangers and how to avoid them, and/or issuing a warning and/or recalling a product to take it off the market. Further, compensation for injury may be limited if a court determines that you are partly responsible for your injuries if you knew or should have known that a recall or warning had been issued and you failed to take appropriate action.

Oftentimes, many people nationwide may suffer similar damages from the same defective product, most notably pharmaceuticals or medical devices. For example, when a medical device implant is recalled, many patients may require revision surgery due to the recall of one product. In these instances, the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (JPML) in Washington, D.C., which is comprised of seven federal district court judges, decides whether to consolidate certain lawsuits with other similar lawsuits around the country into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) to streamline discovery and pre-trial proceedings, and to conduct bellwether trials.

A bellwether trial is a preliminary, or “test” trial ordered by the federal court overseeing an MDL. These trials test jury reaction to a case or cases selected as representative of the MDL plaintiff pool. The outcome of an MDL’s bellwether trials may encourage an appropriate group settlement of all cases consolidated under that MDL because consolidated plaintiffs have the benefit of group negotiating power. The JPML also decides to which court and judge to transfer the cases. Once the MDL is formed, all federal cases nationwide must be transferred and/or filed directly into the MDL.

MDLs are different from class actions. In an MDL, each plaintiff’s lawsuit remains independent. No plaintiff is required to take a settlement as part of a class. If a plaintiff is unable to settle his or her case through the MDL, they may return to their local federal court for additional proceedings or trial. In a class-action lawsuit, all plaintiffs are part of one single lawsuit and are subject to the group settlement and/or trial strategy of the lawyers representing the entire class.

Please note that product manufacturers such as large medical device and pharmaceutical companies may offer a claims process or settlement program designed to pay only for existing medical expenses. They may offer nothing for revision surgeries, future medical treatments, pain and suffering, lost wages or loss of consortium. A product liability lawsuit is intended to recover all of these damages.

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