A mass tort is a civil action involving numerous individual plaintiffs against one or a few corporate defendants in state or federal court. These matters typically last 2-5 years.
The process starts with a few individual cases filed across different state courts. The goal is to get these cases consolidated by a Judicial Panel under what is called a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL).
When they create an MDL, they appoint one Federal Judge to oversee all of the litigation from cases all over the country. These cases are filed in Federal Court and the panel will have just one judge overseeing everything to prevent inconsistent rulings and duplication of efforts from courts across the country. There are ways to keep some of the cases locally in state courts, but the majority of the cases will be centralized under one federal judge. For example, the Mirena MDL is pending in NY.
Once the cases get centralized in front of one judge, there are certain committees that get formed to oversee and steer the litigation. The Plaintiff’s steering committee (PSC) is the first and most important committee. There are usually 2-4 major law firms on this committee and they coordinate and control the litigation, we are usually one of the major law firms. Again, this is to prevent duplication of efforts, etc. PSC oversee and direct the litigation as you can’t have attorneys all over the country litigating these separately. They will also form a committee of law firms and lawyers to do work.
The finish line is near when they begin to try a few “bellwether” or test cases to determine a verdict range and to get an idea of what evidence the jury finds convincing or problems etc. Most of the time these cases get settled after several bellwether cases go to trial. Recovery can come in two forms via settlement or judgment appointed by the court. Usually, the judge facilitates creating the criteria that will be used to decide the compensation based on damages or injuries sustained. There is always a category for extraordinary injuries and recovery sums can go up or down depending on the circumstances.