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What Is a Bellwether Trial?

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A Full Guide to Bellwether Trials in Mass Tort Cases

If you’ve ever read about any case involving mass tort litigation, you’ve probably heard of the term “bellwether trial.” Every legal case has a specific process to follow that is governed by Federal Legal Procedure or State Legal Procedure, depending on the jurisdiction. In mass tort cases, one potential step in the process is known as a bellwether trial. But what are these trials, and what do they mean for your personal injury lawsuit?

At Reich & Binstock, our Houston personal injury lawyers have extensive experience in mass tort litigation, including in bellwether trials. If your case ends up in a bellwether trial, you can rest assured that our attorneys will be there to fight for the justice and compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation with our law firm, please call us at 713-622-7271 or fill out our online intake form today.

What Is Mass Tort and MDL Litigation?

Mass torts involve the consolidation of many lawsuits into one legal action. All parties involved have been harmed in some way by the same defendant. The intention behind mass torts is to reduce the number of pending cases when a large number of people are harmed by a similar problem. These cases often involve a large number of people from one geographic area. Additionally, the victims are treated as individual plaintiffs rather than a large group. This means that each plaintiff must prove their case individually.

Multidistrict litigation, however, involves consolidating many cases from around the country into one court case. The plaintiffs involved must have at least one question of fact in common. The goal behind multidistrict litigation is to lighten the load placed on federal district courts by numerous complex cases. One judge will handle the pretrial proceedings and the process of discovery. 

Bellwether Trial Definition

Bellwether trials are commonly referred to as test trials. A bellwether trial acts as a test run to see how future lawsuits could turn out. They are used in mass tort cases, and they could mean the difference between a defendant reaching settlements or taking the cases to trial. Many cases in the MDL category also use these test cases as a way to estimate what kind of settlements the parties involved could be looking at.

What Is the Purpose of a Bellwether Trial?

bellwether trial definition

Because of the way our legal system works, it is virtually impossible to try thousands of cases surrounding one incident. All the different federal district courts simply do not have the resources to take on this many cases at once. Bellwether trials come into play when many plaintiffs file complaints against the same defendant for similar grievances. 

A bellwether case serves as a test trial that gives both the plaintiffs and the defendants an idea of how the cases may play out in court. They aim to give an idea of what the compensation may look like, as well as how a federal court is likely to rule on the cases. Bellwether trial results often have a significant impact on settlement negotiations. 

How Do Bellwether Trials Get Chosen?

Bellwether cases are chosen from all the cases filed in the mass tort action. A single judge will choose the bellwether cases based on the standards outlined by the federal courts. The MDL judge usually chooses cases that represent a large sample of the other cases in the MDL. After the bellwether trials have been chosen, the attorneys involved will conduct fact discovery to learn more about their cases. 

Fairness to both sides is a key part of the legal process in bellwether trials. For this reason, each side is allowed to choose a case that gives them the best chance of winning. The rest of the bellwether cases will be chosen by either a computer or a single federal district court judge.

How Does a Bellwether Trial Affect Your Case?

Bellwether trials are basically tests of jury trials that will give everyone involved an idea of how jurors and courts will respond to the cases. They are also crucial when it comes to global settlement negotiations. As you can imagine, if a bellwether case goes in favor of the defendant, the potential settlements could see a drastic decrease. On the other hand, if bellwether plaintiffs succeed, the potential settlements could increase drastically.

As with many things in the legal system, bellwether trials have both pros and cons associated with them.

Advantages of Bellwether Trials

Bellwether cases are very important for multidistrict litigation. They act as representative cases of a larger group of lawsuits filed in federal district courts. They are chosen based on how similar they are to all the other cases. Bellwether trials have important advantages for plaintiffs, which we list below.

  • Speeding up the MDL process by setting precedent for compensation in the remaining cases, as well as setting a precedent for the handling of future cases
  • Reducing the cost of legal fees for both plaintiffs and defendants
  • Reducing the time and resources expended by the court system to litigate the remaining cases
  • Boosting the confidence and certainty with which plaintiffs pursue their claims
  • Reducing the amount of time that plaintiffs spend fighting for full and fair compensation

Disadvantages of Bellwether Trials

Keep in mind that bellwether trials are not the magic solution for all other plaintiffs. They still have a few downsides to remember, including the following.

  • Because they will impact the outcome of the other cases filed, a negative outcome could negatively affect your individual claim.
  • Even the smallest detail in a bellwether trial will greatly impact the rest of the cases, as well as similar cases in the future.
  • Victims with similar injuries may feel pressured to accept a payout that does not cover their unique losses in their case.
  • Any plaintiff who was not a bellwether plaintiff may not be able to argue their case in court. 

How Many Bellwether Trials Are Used to Reach a Settlement?

bellwether trial lawyer

In most cases, both sides will compile a list of cases that they feel best represent their arguments. Then, the MDL judge typically chooses two to four bellwether cases. They will usually select these bellwether cases out of a total of around 10 to 20 sample cases.

Can My Case Be Used as a Bellwether Trial?

If you are currently involved in a multidistrict litigation case, there is a chance that your case could be chosen as a bellwether trial. However, this decision is generally left up to either an MDL judge or a computer. In general, those whose cases are chosen as a bellwether trial have strong evidence. If your pending case is selected for the bellwether trials, you need a highly skilled MDL lawyer on your side. The legal team at Reich & Binstock is here to help you fight for the compensation you deserve.

What Happens After a Bellwether Trial?

This depends on the results of the trials. If no agreement is reached from the test trials, the judge will send the cases back to the courts that originally had jurisdiction over the cases. Those cases will then be tried individually. In other words, the MDL eventually dissolves. Many hope to reach a favorable global settlement, but this is not always possible. If your case is referred back to the original court in which you brought it, you’ll need a skilled personal injury attorney on your side.

Contact the Mass Tort Lawyers at Reich & Binstock

If you have suffered damages from a defective product, dangerous prescription drug, defective medical device, or other cases, you need a personal injury lawyer who has extensive experience with mass tort claims. At Reich & Binstock, we have represented many plaintiffs in multidistrict litigations, and we have achieved a stellar reputation in our field. Our nationally-recognized trial lawyers are here to investigate the facts of your claim and help you pursue a civil action against those responsible for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation with us, please call our office at 713-622-7271 today.

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