A number of medications are the subject of ongoing drug lawsuits in the United States. The lawsuits are brought by plaintiffs as a result of medical issues and problems caused by prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals. In some cases, medical problems can be dangerous and even life threatening. In other cases, the damage may be less severe. In either case consumers who have taken the medications may be eligible to collect compensation in the form of a monetary award from the pharmaceutical manufacturer.
What is essential is that the claimed damages be directly caused by the medication. This “causation,” as it is termed by the courts, must be provable. It is not enough to show that it may have been a contributing factor or that it was probably the cause. The courts are looking for a direct cause and effect relationship.
Different Types of Drug Lawsuits
There are a number of ways that drug lawsuits may be brought to court. The form will depend on the number of people affected with the same or similar problems, the severity of the medical issues and in some cases the location of the court. How and what type of lawsuit to pursue is a decision that will be in consultation with a lawyer. In some cases, there are lawyers who have gained experience in litigating cases related to a specific drug or medical problem.
There are two types of lawsuits with which you may want to become familiar:
Class Action Drug Lawsuits
A class action lawsuit is a form of litigation where a large number of people who have experienced the same problem form a group to represent all of them in a single case. In the case of a drug lawsuit a number of people experiencing the same condition would form a group to bring a lawsuit against a manufacturer. The case will be brought by a lead plaintiffs, also called a class representative, who representatives the interests of all of the other plaintiffs who join the lawsuit.
Why would a plaintiff join a class action instead of filing an individual lawsuit? There are a number of reasons why plaintiffs would choose to join a class action. It may be that there are so many pending cases that combining all of them into a single case simplifies and streamlines the process. Another reason is that class actions often result in settlements between plaintiff and defendant, meaning that the results are achieved much more quickly than would be the case with trials and the following appeals.
Class actions don’t require plaintiffs to get involved personally with litigation. There’s the benefit of not having to become directly involved with the time consuming and emotionally draining process of becoming involved directly with a trial and negotiations. All of that is handled directly by the lead plaintiff. It’s not even necessary for a plaintiff to get involved with the case prior to a settlement. Once the case is settled any plaintiff who qualifies as a member of the affected class is eligible for share of the compensation. This, of course, can affect the size of each share if numerous plaintiffs join the suit only after it’s settled.
Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)
Multidistrict litigation is a federal legal procedure that is used to handle especially complex matters like drug lawsuits. In multidistrict litigation federal cases from around the country are transferred to a single court that handles all of the pre-trial and discovery issues. If the case is not dismissed or a settlement is not reached then the individual cases are sent back to the courts where they were originally filed for trial.
In practical terms, mutlidistrict litigation helps to preserve resources and to streamline the process. For example, if 50 drug lawsuits were filed across the country the drug’s manufacturer would have to be deposed 50 times and 50 different courts would have to oversee the entire process. This process enables the early stages of a trial (and settlement) to be handled more consistently and efficiently. There is going to be less room for inconsistent results.
Multidistrict litigation differs from class action litigation in several important ways. Multidistrict litigation tends to be more flexible. The individual cases are not combined, as in a class action, and each plaintiff retains his or her own lawyer. In multidistrict litigation there is also more flexibility in allowing for the nature and the extent of the injury suffered as well as in the amount of damages claimed. They can all be slightly different, where more uniformity is the norm in a class action where a single, representative case is tried on behalf of all members of the class. Class actions may also be brought in state courts. Multidistrict litigation is used only in state courts. Ongoing multidistrict litigation includes suits involving talcum powder and Taxotere.
Multidistrict litigation is growing in population as a tool in federal lawsuits. At present, some 15 percent of all civil lawsuits in the United States have been combined into multidistrict litigation. Some cases are very large with thousands of combined plaintiffs while others can combine just a few.
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