What is a Bellwether Trial?
Have you seen the commercials looking for people who were injured or made ill by a product or medication? Those commercials could be linked to a bellwether trial, a test trial used to see how a sample jury might view the evidence in a specific type of case, usually mass torts or multidistrict litigation.
What are Mass Torts and Multidistrict Litigation?
Mass torts involve negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions by one person or party, like a business, that harm several innocents. The injured parties file lawsuits against the single party for compensation for their injuries and losses.
When too many lawsuits involve the same facts, injuries, and defendant, it creates a backlog that overwhelms the court system. To streamline the process, the federal courts consolidate the separate cases into one multidistrict litigation (MDL) for the early stages.
This process reduces overall costs and limits the burden on the federal court system by allowing one district court to handle all of the lawsuits. Further, all evidence gathered applies to every lawsuit in MDL.
What is a Bellwether Case?
Bellwether cases test the waters for both sides of the case and determine how much each claim in an MDL is worth. Lawyers select one case from the group that is similar to all of the other claims and build their case. The bellwether case serves as a guideline for other claims in the MDL.
The Upside of Bellwether Cases
Bellwether trials play an important role in multidistrict litigation. By streamlining hundreds or thousands of cases into one or two trials, bellwether cases provide several benefits.
- The entire process moves faster for all parties involved because the bellwether case sets a precedent for the others.
- All plaintiffs see a drop in legal fees and an easier settlement process.
- Likewise, the defendants reduce their legal fees.
- The judicial system devotes less time and money to the same issue.
- Plaintiffs spend less time fighting for compensation for their injuries and get the money they deserve.
Bellwether cases can also ease anxiety and stress for the other plaintiffs by providing a sense of imminent closure. It can be a welcome relief during a chaotic and troubling affair.
The Downside of Bellwether Trials
Bellwether trials are common enough that the government developed a system established for judges handling these cases. However, like many common practices in our world, bellwether trials don’t provide perfect results, and there are some drawbacks.
- Though the overall process can be easier, determining which claim to put forth as the bellwether case can be challenging, costly, and contentious.
- Minor differences in bellwether trials have profoundly impacted subsequent negotiations.
- Sometimes the system pressures plaintiffs into accepting lesser settlements because their case may differ some from the bellwether case.
- Claimants not chosen to represent the MDL may never get their day in court to share their story.
Bellwether trials may not be the perfect solution for everyone. However, they remain an essential aspect of mass tort law.
How Bellwether Cases Can Impact You
Whether you answer one of those commercials or join a prominent MDL claim, you may wonder how the bellwether trial process could impact you. It depends on where your case falls in the overall process. Your experience as a tag-along claim would be completely different than if you became a bellwether case.
What to Expect as a Bellwether Claimant
If lawyers choose your case for the bellwether trial, you can expect to devote more time than the other claimants. Since your outcome affects everyone else, you may feel more stressed by the process as you face more questions and scrutiny throughout the process.
You will likely face more depositions and more comprehensive investigations into your injuries and recovery. Expect more interactions with the attorneys involved in the MDL.
Expectations for Tag-Along Claimants
In many ways, the process may be smoother and easier if you’re not the bellwether case. Most of the evidence and decisions will be set by the bellwether trial. You can expect comparisons between your injuries, costs, and recovery time and those of the bellwether claimant.
Usually, the lawyers divide tag-along claims into categories based on the level of injuries and costs. You can expect to be grouped with others similar to you and receive an award in line with those in your group.
Before joining an MDL claim or agreeing to a bellwether trial, it’s a good idea to work with an attorney you trust. Having knowledgeable representation to guide you through the process can alleviate some of the stress and pressure.