Individual Suit or Class Action?

Many people assume that any large lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs is always a class action. But there is a difference and the distinction is important, especially in the context of pharmaceutical products liability litigation. Cases of this type frequently involve numerous plaintiffs and may proceed as either a class action or a consolidated multidistrict litigation (MDL). The course that is most appropriate depends greatly on the number of potential plaintiffs as well as the type of harm they suffered.

Federal trial courts, as well as most state courts, have special procedures in place that allow a small number of plaintiffs to assert the rights of a large class of similarly situated people through a class action lawsuit. In such cases, the named plaintiffs participate directly in the litigation process while the rest of the class members simply fill out a claim form and collect a small portion of the eventual verdict or settlement. Class actions are most appropriate in cases that involve very large numbers of claimants — often in the thousands — because the class members do not need to directly participate. For the same reason, class actions are also more appropriate in cases where the harm each class member suffered is comparatively small.

The second course that pharmaceutical litigation frequently takes is consolidated litigation or multidistrict litigation. This usually occurs when numerous individual plaintiffs file separate lawsuits alleging similar facts and the court system elects to consolidate them as a single case. Pharmaceutical cases of this type can have up to several hundred plaintiffs. But unlike class actions, each plaintiff is individually identified and participates directly in the litigation process. This type of claim may be more appropriate in cases where plaintiffs suffered a higher degree of harm, such as in current Pradaxa® litigation, which has been consolidated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.