Thousands of U.S. women per year since the mid-nineties may have been exposed to the serious cancer-spreading risks of a medical device called the power morcellator.
A mounting number of lawsuits have been filed by affected women and their families against morcellator manufacturers and other parties who allegedly failed to safeguard patients.
Recently, plaintiffs from 21 pending power morcellator cases have requested to be grouped together via a process called Multi-District Litigation (MDL).
MDL and Class Action: 2 Types of Group Litigation
MDL, like class action, is a popular example of group litigation.
Long, complicated legal proceedings can put strain on the legal system and on all parties involved. To help remedy this, group litigation procedures were developed to streamline processing for multiple cases which share similarities such as a common set of defendants and/or allegations.
Though employed in similar circumstances, MDL and class action are separate procedures that proceed very differently, with distinct advantages and disadvantages which we summarize here.
In MDL, cases are handled together under a single federal court for pre-trial proceedings. A prominent example of a pre-trial dealing is “discovery,” where opposing parties attempt to obtain evidence from one another with requests and interrogation.
Note that the constituent lawsuits listed together under MDL remain separate cases which are resolved individually. That is, only procedures that take place prior to settlement negotiations or trials are shared between cases. Individual plaintiffs retain responsibility and control over the eventual outcomes of their cases.
If a case in MDL reaches a settlement, the settlement negotiations have no bearing on the other cases in the group and the settlement amount is not divided in any way. Cases in MDL that need to proceed to trial are sent back to their courts of origin instead of being tried at the common MDL court.
In class action, a group of claims against a common defendant or set of defendants is consolidated into a single lawsuit. One plaintiff (or a few) out of the group is appointed the “lead” or “representative” plaintiff and files the claim, requesting certification for a class action.
All members in a lawsuit approved as a class action lose their right to file their own individual lawsuits. Also, lead plaintiff represents the entire class action for the duration of the case, so the other plaintiffs often have limited or no active participation in the suit.
Any settlements or court awards resulting from a class action lawsuit are divided among members according to a court decision. Many class action members end up receiving nothing from the restitution won.
Comparison: Class Action Versus MDL
Now that we’ve described the basics of each, we can compare the two methods in respect to the 3 main advantages they potentially offer for power morcellator victims.
1. Ease of Participation
Class Action – Easy to Join Yet Often Yields Little Reward
In the majority of modern class action lawsuits, all potentially affected individuals are considered members of the case unless they actively choose to opt out.
The lead plaintiff(s) is solely responsible for representing the class in court, and members only need to contact him or her if they wish to be one of the parties specifically named on the lawsuit or wish to help provide evidence.
This allows many people to participate in seeking justice and compensation even if they lack the resources and time to file an individual suit. However, though claimants may not expend much for a class action suit, they also often receive little or no reward.
MDL – More Effort but More Compensation is Likely
Since MDL is used to group lawsuits that have already been filed, individual claimants must work with lawyers to develop their own cases.
However, this means that the claimant has considerable control over their case and receives the full amount of any compensation won.
Also, legal assistance is not necessarily the financial burden it’s often perceived to be. Here at Monheit Law, our lawyers will evaluate your case for free and work for you on a contingency fee basis. This means that you are not obligated to pay anything until we win a settlement or court award for you.
2. Influence Over the Case
Class Action – Reserved for Lead Plaintiff; Others Have No Say
The lead plaintiff represents all claimants, both in pre-trial proceedings and in court, and all members forego the right to file their own claims unless they opt out of the class action.
Therefore, if you are part of a class action, the fate of your claim lies completely in the hands of the lead plaintiff, who may or may not adequately represent your case. You will likely have no input into decisions about settlements or court proceedings.
MDL – Plaintiffs Retain Rights Over Their Cases
For the most part, plaintiffs in cases grouped under MDL retain all rights to their cases. Though pre-trial proceedings occur in a “marathon session” under a single presiding court, all plaintiffs have the right to participate fully. Each plaintiff can decide whether to enter settlement negotiations or to pursue a trial (though the case will be sent back to the original court for trial).
3. Handling of Restitution
Class Action – Distribution Decided by Court
In class action, any restitution is portioned out by discretion of the presiding court. Typically, the lion’s share is allocated for the lead plaintiff and for paying any relevant legal fees, and then the remaining portion is divided among the rest of the claimants.
Because of the large size of many class action lawsuits, most class action members will get only negligible amounts of compensation for the wrongs they’ve endured, if they receive anything at all.
MDL – Settlements and Court Awards Given Individually
Since cases under MDL are still considered separate lawsuits, the restitution is given on a case-by-case basis and not divided up in any way. Thus each plaintiff will receive the full settlement or court award amount.
Power Morcellator Cases: Better Suited to MDL?
Now that we’ve compared class action and MDL, we can see why MDL may be a better fit for handling power morcellator cases.
It is true that power morcellator claims often share major similarities. For example, many of them are aimed at device manufacturers with allegations of negligence such failure to properly warn consumers of risks.
However, each woman’s tragic story is unique, and cases can differ enough to make it inappropriate to represent them all with one or two plaintiffs as done in class action.
Crucial details that can differ among power morcellator lawsuits include:
- Defendants (e.g. some are aimed at device manufacturers; others, at hospitals or doctors)
- Specific morcellator-aided operation undergone
- Information/preparation given to patient prior to surgery
- Details/severity of cancer diagnosis received
- List of damages suffered
Furthermore, the tremendous physical, emotional, and financial hardships endured by power morcellator victims merit a significant amount of compensation, which individual plaintiffs are unlikely to receive via class action.
Contact Monheit Law to Explore Your Legal Options
As we have seen, power morcellator litigation may be heading towards MDL, a process that expedites pre-trial proceedings, affords plaintiffs control over their cases, and offers the possibility of a sizable court award or settlement.
If you or a loved one may have been harmed by a power morcellator, contact Monheit Law today for a case evaluation to start investigating your right to legal action, free of charge.