February 19, 2020 Business of Law

Multidistrict Litigation: Dominating the Federal Docket

For the first time in its 50-year history, multidistrict litigation makes up more than 50 percent of the federal civil caseload.

By Daniel S. Wittenberg

For the first time in its 50-year history, multidistrict litigation (MDL) makes up more than 50 percent of the federal civil caseload. According to a recent assessment of statistical information released by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) by the Lawyers for Civil Justice (LCJ), MDLs accounted for 51.9 percent of all pending federal civil cases at the end of 2018. As reported, this is an increase of four percent from 2017. “When MDLs were created in 1968, nobody could have predicted that half a century later they would dominate our federal civil docket,” says LCJ Executive Director Andrea B. Looney in a press release.

Multidistrict litigation

Multidistrict litigation

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MDL by the Numbers

Since the creation of the JPML in 1968, 673,104 civil actions have been centralized for pretrial proceedings. The percentage of civil cases in MDLs has more than tripled over the past 16 years. Of the 301,766 civil cases pending in the federal court system at the close of 2018, 156,511 were pending in 248 MDLs. According to the JPML, the top three MDL case types are products liability, antitrust, and sales practices. At the end of 2018, the JPML noted that these three categories made up 69.1 percent of the pending MDLs, with products liability constituting 32.9 percent, antitrust 24.1 percent, and sales practices 12.1 percent.

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