Panelists at University of Georgia Law Review’s annual symposium on Thursday focused on multidistrict litigation which was established 50 years ago to consolidate thousands of non criminal civil cases across U.S. federal courts.
Attorneys and law students attended the session to hear debates on the benefits and drawbacks of MDL. Henry Garrard, a personal attorney from Athens, has dealt with multiple MDL cases throughout his career. MDL is necessary and beneficial, Garrard said.
“There’s no way that the federal system can individually litigate those cases. [There are] not enough judges and not enough courtrooms,” Garrard said.
Others, including former Georgia Governor and moderator Roy Barnes, who also practices as a private attorney, believe MDL cases are settled out of court too often.
“Plaintiff lawyers think [MDL is] a black hole,” Barnes said, “Every time I get an MDL notice, I just cringe.”
Nevertheless, Barnes stressed the importance of the MDL debate.
“These are problems we have seen with MDL. Are they all seeing and all correct? No. But at least they’re starting that conversation [on MDL],” Barnes said.
MDL cases include products liability cases, when thousands and even one hundred thousands of individuals have filed separate injury claims against medical device manufacturers. Current cases have focused on opioid litigation, while historic cases dealt with urinary mesh, tobacco and asbestos claims.
The Judicial Panel on MDL consolidates cases with common legal questions and transfers them to a randomly chosen U.S. district court. Many MDL cases are settled out of court, which has prompted a legal debate on the rights of individual plaintiffs, defendants and attorneys.
“The big question is how can our courts effectively manage [litigation] consistently while still giving each individual who might be affected all around the country a fair hearing?” panelist and Loyola Law School Professor Adam Zimmerman said.
UGA Law Review’s executive symposium co-editor Daniel Lockaby said the symposium was a platform for legal scholars to discuss MDL’s current issues and where it should proceed.
Audience members consisted of UGA law students and Law Review staff and attorneys. Some, like Nicholas Forsyth, a senior risk management major from Rockmart, was there “to get exposure” to more topics regarding the legal process.
“Even if something is completely different from my interests, I may not know that much about it, so having more information lets me make better decisions,” Forsyth said. “Maybe I find more interest in this than what I previously thought.”
Forsyth will attend UGA Law School this fall.