Class Action vs. Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)
A class action lawsuit is where multiple parties have the same dispute against the same defendants and ask the court to join their causes of action into a single case, resulting in a single trial. Typically, there are at least 100 plaintiffs with the exact same claim and right to compensation and action. Individuals can start a class action suit, but they only have about 6 months to gather the remaining participants, all of whom claim similar damages and legal grounds for the suit. Afterward, the award is typically divided equally between members of the class action.
In an MDL, there is not a single trial that resolves all of the cases. For this type of lawsuit, the case is consolidated under one federal judge who handles all of the discovery matters common to all of the defendants with each case standing on its own merits. All pending civil cases of a similar type are collected and assigned to a single federal judge, a process designed to speed up the handling of complex cases such as the BP Oil Spill.
In complex lawsuits, millions of documents will be used in evidence. The MDL allows all documents and evidence to be collected once and used by any of the plaintiffs as necessary. It remains the burden of the individual lawyers to prove that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.