Dive Brief: A rule change is needed to require better review of plaintiffs in multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases, some of the largest corporations in the United States say in a letter to the administrative agency that oversees federal court cases. Too many plaintiffs who are eventually dropped from a mass tortious action because they were not exposed to the product in question or suffered injury as part of the claim are too often held in MDLs during the pretrial portion of the proceedings, slowing down the process, the companies say . “It is a well-known hallmark of mass claims that large volumes of such unverified and untenable claims are allowed to be ‘parked’ for long periods of time,” read the letter from the chief legal officer of Johnson & Jonson, 3M and Altria Group, among more than 30 Company. Dive insight:
Individual claims that are too diverse to be combined into a class action are consolidated at the pre-trial level into an MDL before being sent to different courts for further processing.
In addition to cases where the plaintiff has not had contact with a product or suffered any damage as part of the claim, many cases are eventually singled out because the statute of limitations expired before the action was brought.
To reduce the number of unsuccessful claims that clog the process, the letter recommends procedural changes so that judges can require plaintiffs’ attorneys to demonstrate that they have exercised due diligence on their clients’ claims at an early stage.
The goal is to “resolve MDL disputes more efficiently and fairly for plaintiffs with valid claims,” said Kevin Rhodes, 3M’s executive vice president and chief legal affairs officer, in a statement reported by Reuters.
For years, 3M has faced mass tort lawsuits involving more than 230,000 service members and veterans alleging that the company knowingly provided them with defective combat earplugs.
Johnson & Johnson faced mass tort lawsuits of its own involving nearly 40,000 plaintiffs alleging that its talcum powder contributed to a rise in ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
rule change applies
Attempting to expedite the process could hurt many plaintiffs, an attorney for the plaintiffs says.
The policy could end up creating a “pretty significant level of evidence just to have the right to file,” Ben Whiting, a partner at Keller Postman, said in the Reuters report.
The letter was sent to the US Courts Administration Office, which oversees the rules of procedure for federal jurisdiction. An MDL subcommittee is considering writing a new rule on early management decisions in MDLs.
“Such a rule is urgently needed,” says the letter from the chief of justice.