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US judicial panel approves rule governing federal mass torts

On Tuesday, a U.S. judicial panel approved the very first rule that governs federal mass tort cases. The rule will give judges a first plan that they can follow when asked to hear hundreds or even thousands of lawsuits against corporations.


The U.S. Judicial Conference’s Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, at its gathering in Washington, D.C., approved an order that gives judges guidelines on how they should handle early case management once they are tasked with monitoring the federal court’s multidistrict litigation (MDLs).

MDLs are often instances involving claims that a company’s product or drug harmed consumers; they have increased substantially in recent times and constituted 71.3 percent of federal civil cases at the close of the fiscal year 2023 as per the defence-oriented association Lawyers for Civil Justice.

The law has been under review since 2017, with defence attorneys and companies frequently sued for the alleged injuries caused by their products, such as Johnson & Johnson and Bayer calling for major changes to prevent meritless lawsuits.

The final rule, however, is the “modest rule, frankly in light of what the initial ideas included,” said U.S. District Judge John Bates, a D.C. judge who is the chair of the committee. He called it an “outstanding” rule with the full support of his.

“Congratulations will be extended until the conclusion of the seven-year period of formulating an idea,” he said.

The rule states that judges should organize initial hearings in order to create case management plans after they have been appointed through the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and supports the selection of plaintiffs’ leadership counsel.

The brand-new rule 16.1 in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is also a requirement for parties to share information in the early stages of their litigation regarding the main legal and factual issues that arise in the MDL, as well as the facts that support their defences and claims.

Alex Dahl, the general counsel of Lawyers for Civil Justice, in a statement, said that the new rule will “focus the parties and courts on making sure that the claims made in an MDL are actually part of the case, and begin to do this early.”

Defence lawyers had advocated for a process that required all plaintiffs early in an instance to show that they have evidence to support the most fundamental elements of their arguments so that they can get rid of cases earlier in the litigious process.

However, judicial policy makers stressed the need for flexibility in the time rather than for whether judges should demand plaintiffs disclose these details. A large portion of the rule amounts to guidance that is not binding for judges who are given the discretion to oversee MDLs.

The decision now falls to the Judicial Conference, which is expected to take up the rule during its meeting in September. If it is approved, the rule will be passed on to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will then present the rule to Congress. If it is not averted by Congress refusing to approve it, the ruling would be in effect from 1st December. 1st, 2025.

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