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The Different Types of Cases

MDL vs Mass Tort vs Class Action

With more than 20 years’ collective legal experience under our belts, the attorneys at have seen all kinds of cases. Most of the cases we handle are Multi-District Litigation cases, or MDLs – and if you work with us, it’ll probably be because you have an MDL case.

To learn more about MDL cases, click here.

Multi-District Litigation (MDL) cases are similar to, but distinct from, two other kinds of cases that you may have heard of: Mass Torts, and Class Action lawsuits.

We firmly believe that you’re entitled to know as much about your lawsuit as possible. So if all of this legal mumbo-jumbo sounds confusing, let us help you understand the differences between these three kinds of cases.

What is a Multi-District Litigation (MDL) case?

A Multi-District Litigation (MDL) case is a large lawsuit that collects within it numerous smaller, related lawsuits. They are designed to promote efficiency and economy, and to assist with the backlog of cases in the American court system.

In an MDL, a group of cases that make similar or identical claims are brought together into a single case so that a single judge may address all of the pretrial proceedings for the constituent cases. Because the claims are essentially identical, grouping the “smaller” cases together makes sense.

So, for example, if several hundred complaints have been filed in multiple states about certain, dangerous side effects of a particular prescription medication, all of those cases may be grouped together into a single MDL case. A judge oversees each and every complaint, and then one of three things happens to each individual case: it can be dismissed, it can be settled for a certain sum of money, or it can be handed over to another court so that it can be tried individually.

Often, the cases that are tried separately become “bellwether cases,” which set legal precedents for other, closely related cases.

MDL cases are organized by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation, whose seven members are appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What is a Mass Tort case?

A Mass Tort case (also called a Mass Action case) is a case in which numerous plaintiffs file suit against one or a small number of defendants. Often, they concern dangerous drugs, defective medical devices, and defective consumer products, but can and do address a wide range of legal topics.

Effectively, a Mass Tort case is one of the “ingredients” in an MDL case. Mass Tort cases are the cases that are consolidated to constitute MDL cases. Sometimes, they are tried on their own, without being included in an MDL.

What is a Class Action lawsuit?

A Class Action lawsuit is one in which a small number of people represent a larger group of people by bringing a lawsuit against a single defendant or a small number of defendants. In order for a lawsuit to be classified as a Class Action case, it must meet the following criteria: • Numerosity: there must be such a large number of plaintiffs that it would be impractical to try all of their cases • Commonality: certain questions of fact are common to all the cases • Typicality: the claims made by the representatives are typical of the claims made by other people • Adequacy of representation: the representatives will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the others who make up the class.

Class Action lawsuits commonly address questions of consumer fraud, employment, investments, and other topics. Erin Brockovich’s famous case against the health and environmental harm done by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was a Class Action case; so was the case against TicketMaster that accused the company of failing to divulge all of its ticketing fees to customers.

Often, in Class Action cases, a large settlement is distributed amongst all members of the class, usually resulting in individual compensation of a relatively low value.

At, our expert attorneys have tried cases of every one of these types – and many other types of cases, as well. If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit that sounds like it could be one or more of the types described above, reach out for your free consultation. is here to help you find the justice and the compensation you deserve.

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