AUSTIN – Tort reform is being considered to reduce the recovery amounts in personal injury case that falls under multi-district litigation (MDL).
MDL creates a swift and efficient means to coordinate cases in multiple courts often across many states that frequently deal with personal injury against the same defective product or device. In order to ensure these cases don’t overburden the court system, MDL was set up to manage these cases under one judge and within the same court system.
According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, since 1967 more than 179,000 separate federal civil actions have been consolidated in pretrial proceedings, allowing the court system to be unburdened from this additional case load through the use of MDL.
With MDL often comes great settlements where tort reform is looking to make a change and create more limitations on the amount of recovery awards that can be made in these types of cases.
“There’s a lot of discussion that it’s too easy to get very high recoveries for minor injuries from juries where you have very effective and persuasive lawyers that pull on the heartstrings of individual jurors,” Ted Hadzi-Antich, senior attorney at the Center for the American Future with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told the Southeast Texas Record. “There’s a lot of discussion. There has been for years on reforming tort injury recoveries.”
The best way that these settlements can be reduced is through legislation, according to Hadzi-Antich, as Congress has the power to create the necessary restrictions on personal injury awards.
“The only way to do it through legislation where you have a state legislature or a potential federal law that Congress limits the liabilities for certain types of injuries that companies face,” Hadzi-Antich said. “It’s primarily a legislative fix because the thinking is courts have allowed juries to run rampant in awarding high rewards basically for minor injuries.”
The settlements that these MDL cases incur makes it easier for an attorney to reap legal fees using a contingency plan based on a portion of the settlement of the case; with multiple clients yields higher settlements and larger contingencies for attorneys.
“Usually the contingency is one-third the amount recovered by the client,” said Hadzi-Antich. “There are thousands if not tens of thousands of clients all over the country and one-third of a larger pie means a much larger set of legal fees for the lawyers to recover.”
The scope of MDL has expanded over the years with its primary focus on manufacturing defects that cause injury. This has now expanded to challenge federal agencies’ actions that impact individuals and businesses.
For plaintiffs, the cost to participate in an MDL case is often less than if they file the case on their own as similar circumstances among similar parties allow for a more efficient means to try the case without duplicating efforts.
“If anything, it may decrease the litigation cost because there are going to be common issues that are going to be litigated in all these courts,” said Hadzi-Antich.