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Individual Personal Injury Claims vs. Class Action Lawsuits

There are many types of personal injury lawsuits. Most injury cases, settlements, and verdicts fit into one of three categories: an individual lawsuit, a class action lawsuit, or a multi-district litigation (MDL).

Understanding the different types of lawsuits help potential claimants to better comprehend how the litigation process may affect them in case they’ve been injured and intend to move forward with a civil suit or make a choice on joining a class action.

Individual Personal Injury Claims

A basic civil lawsuit brought on by an individual injury victim constitutes a civil action brought in court in which a party, known as the plaintiff, who claims to have suffered damages at the hands of another party, known as the defendant. The majority of class actions that eventually form MDLs start out as individual personal injury claims. The individual civil suit is essentially the first step, where one person hurt by a dangerous drug, surgical error, or accident seeks remedy for his/her damages. Damages potentially awarded to a plaintiff can include compensatory and/or punitive damages.

Class Action Lawsuits

A class action is a lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of people, such as a lawsuit filed on behalf of multiple patients who suffered similar injuries caused by a defective product or an adverse drug side effect. The purpose of a class action is to allow several individual plaintiffs with limited resources to leverage their claims collectively against a major manufacturer or pharmaceutical corporation, which likely has substantial financial resources and might otherwise easily overwhelm each of the plaintiffs individually. A class action lawsuit is typically initiated by just a few or several of the claimants. The action is then expanded to include all existing and potential plaintiffs who belong to the class. The court handling the action typically attempts to notify everyone belonging to a class, giving them the choice of opting out and seeking independent action versus opting in and accepting whatever shares of the settlement or verdict is attained and divided up among them.

Multi-district Litigation

A multi-district litigation, commonly referred to as MDL, is a federal court procedure implemented to consolidate all existing pending litigation on an essentially identical issue. The MDL is then placed under the oversight of a single federal judge for pretrial proceedings. Multi-district litigation is implemented when pending cases in multiple federal court districts depend on common questions of fact. For example, individual drug litigation cases can be brought by individual plaintiffs or may be brought as smaller class actions. The potential transition from a class action to the MDL might be looked at as a third, but not always necessary, step in combining mass torts “in common”. Therefore, a multi-district litigation could be composed of multiple individual lawsuits, multiple class actions, or even a mixture of both individual personal injury lawsuits and class actions.

Differences Between Class Action and Multi-district Litigation

Once a class action is declared, all the existing claimants who are considered to be a part of the class are given a brief time period to either opt in or opt out.

All those who have not opted out will remain part of the class. In this case, the class action then moves forward as a single trial through formal hearings and on to a verdict, unless a settlement is offered by the defendant and accepted by the plaintiffs.

In contrast, the MDL is only for pretrial proceedings so that all parties whose cases hinge on similar questions of fact are able to streamline the discoveries, disclosures, and depositions necessary to establish the facts.

Theoretically, once the pretrial proceedings are finished, the individual claims are then remanded or returned to their original federal court districts.

This means that even after consolidation into the MDL, each individual injury claim may potentially end up with very different outcomes after a trial. However, historically, it is rather common for most multi-district litigations to end with settlements that reached during the pretrial proceedings.

If you’ve been injured, contact us for a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer. Call (813) 273-0017 to discuss your case and whether an individual personal injury claim or class action is best to seek compensation.

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