When multiple people experience similar injuries due to a negligent or wrongful action by the same defendant or defendants, victims in various locations can file individual lawsuits that a judicial panel that oversees mass tort litigation can consolidate into multidistrict litigation (MDL).
The creation of the MDL is intended to reduce the burden on courts in various states that deal with similar legal proceedings across the nation by consolidating proceedings into one venue to eliminate the redundant processes and subsequent costs in numerous locations. Courts can require plaintiffs to gather pertinent information in a detailed format from all plaintiffs involved in a litigation to help analyze the validity of the case and in hopes of reducing time to resolve the matters.
These detailed summaries can pinpoint each case’s strengths and weaknesses to determine if it should move forward, thereby reducing or eliminating extraneous caseloads. A recent article found that MDLs account for 52% of the federal civil caseload.
Often, MDLs are the result of medical negligence and other civil liabilities pertaining to product defects. Each individual involved as a plaintiff in an MDL must fill out a plaintiff fact sheet (PFS). A PFS is a standardized legal form used to gather pertinent and helpful information from each plaintiff. In traditional lawsuits, lawyers collect this data through depositions or interrogatories. When there are multiple plaintiffs, testimonies can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Therefore, it’s necessary to streamline the process.
A PFS replaces other forms of discovery to identify:
- Basic information about each plaintiff (name, address, date of birth, etc.)
- Information necessary to establish that each plaintiff has a legal right to participate in the lawsuit
- Facts potentially relevant to a defense of each plaintiff’s claim, such as expiration of applicable statutes of limitations
- Facts that may affect the amount of compensation that each plaintiff has a right to receive
- Medical records, employment records, and other tangible evidence that may support the answers given to the fact sheet questions
Completing Plaintiff Fact Sheets
Completing a PFS can be a laborious and intensive process. This document obtains as many recollections of the facts of the event as possible. For example, if your claim involves pharmaceutical malpractice, it’s essential to identify the product used, to delineate the negative consequences of using it, to identify the date of the injury, and to include authorizations for the relevant medical records and points of contact for verification of your claim.
Due to the complexities and importance of a PFS, lawyers must review these documents to ensure the plaintiff accurately covered all aspects of the event. Next, the legal team might consult with industry experts or professionals in the field related to your injury, including nurses or other health care providers and researchers, engineers, or consultants. Leveraging insight from health care professionals can give your case the legal edge it needs to succeed in court proceedings. After review, it’s vital to submit the PFS within the timeframe specified by the court.
After active plaintiffs submit their PFS, the information is made available to all parties involved in the lawsuit. The defendant has the opportunity to identify problems with the information, such as insufficient evidence to support a particular claim. The defendant returns the PFS to the plaintiff, allowing them to correct these deficiencies, similar to providing an answer or response to an interrogatory, request for production, or request to admit.
Both parties use the available data to discuss settlement negotiations and, potentially, select bellwether cases for trial when those negotiations fail because settlement discussions aren’t yet persuasive enough or both parties cannot agree to a reasonable settlement amount. A bellwether trial is a formal proceeding that essentially acts as a test case for a widely contested issue. The court selects a small subset of lawsuits considered most representative of the plaintiff group to proceed to jury trials scheduled over several months, depending on the number of cases chosen. Decisions of bellwether trials help to set precedents for future court proceedings. In many cases, these test trials increase the likelihood that parties will settle similar lawsuits without formal hearings.
Answering the question, “How long will the MDL process take?” can be difficult and will depend on several factors, including consistency and accuracy of provided information, defendant cooperation, and court timelines. Some states have reserved dates each month to review MDL cases. Typical estimates for attaining a hearing date are between one and three months. After your hearing, standard estimates for the ruling are between 10 and 17 weeks (pg. 2242).
Best Practices for Completing Plaintiff Fact Sheets
When completing plaintiff fact sheets, there are some best practices you should follow to avoid deficiencies that can be used against your client. These best practices can take time upfront but help to prevent problems later. They include:
Start Preparation Early
It’s a good idea to begin gathering information and evidence that supports your clients’ claims before receiving the plaintiff fact sheets. If you’re already familiar with your clients’ cases and the relevant facts, it can help the process run smoother and more quickly and efficiently.
Additionally, you won’t have to rush to obtain needed evidentiary support while trying to meet the deadline to provide answers regarding the viability and strength of your clients’ allegations. It can often take time to retrieve necessary medical records or expert opinions required to support your clients’ answers and improve case outcomes.
Use Precise Language
Ensure that all information provided is clear, straightforward, and can be easily understood. Encourage your clients to answer questions exactly as asked, and avoid adding information not asked for that’s not helpful to support their claims.
It’s important to work with your clients and staff to ensure the information provided is accurate and thorough. The litigation process should be understood to guarantee that relevant data is included. Each question should be answered completely and factually as supported by the evidence.
Engage an Expert
If needed, have a medical or other expert get involved in the process early, beginning with the completion of the plaintiff fact sheets. Ensuring that medical data is relayed in such a way that aims to support your clients’ allegations early on can better help you develop your case strategy for negotiations or to present solid cases and evidence in court, giving you an initial advantage.
Use Online Discovery Platforms
When available to you and your clients, it’s best to use a secure online platform to compile discovery. Doing so can help ensure easy access to the information for hosting and sharing with accuracy and timeliness. Using online platforms can also prove more cost-effective and eliminate many deficiencies. Additionally, these online databases might have valuable tools for sorting, organizing, and analyzing the provided information, which is essential with complex litigation.
Challenges Completing Plaintiff Fact Sheets for Mass Tort Litigation
Completing a PFS is a challenging but important process. Completing the PFS can be complicated, time-consuming, and confusing. Lawyers can help clients navigate the complex question and answer document and eliminate many challenges posed by PFS completion because they understand what courts might be looking for when deciding a case. Timeframes can present additional challenges to plaintiffs. If plaintiffs fail to complete PFS forms within the timeframe stipulated by the court, the court may dismiss the case for failure to prosecute or to comply with a court order.
Beginning the fact sheet soon after documentation of the injury has been submitted will assist in meeting court deadlines. Depending on how many individuals are participating in your MDL, it might be a lengthy process to collect all the data. This process can take as many as eight months, a standard deadline set forth by courts.
The process of completing and submitting a PFS requires a fair amount of communication between the client, various members of the legal team, and health care professionals. Breakdowns in communication or lags in the delivery of necessary health records can slow the process and create a frustrating situation for injured persons.
Retrieving medical records can prove particularly difficult, as each state and individual provider can have different rules for requesting records. Individual states and providers may require additional forms and documentation before releasing health records to your legal team.
After you submit the PFS, you’re not necessarily finished with the process. The defendant may review the PFS and request more information or ask you to fix certain discrepancies. In this case, the process might begin again, and you will need to coordinate with your legal team to ensure additional data is provided timely and accurately to dispel any defenses.
How can Case Works help?
Medical malpractice or negligence can cause significant pain and suffering, and lead to expensive medical bills. If your firm has recently been involved in multidistrict litigation, you may find yourself too overwhelmed to focus on building an effective case.
Outsourcing repetitive client contact, documentation retrieval and organization, and coordination are an invaluable way to help obtain a favorable ruling. The attorneys, data analysts, and health care experts at Case Works are passionate about helping you achieve the best outcome for your clients. We work tirelessly with you and your clients to complete the necessary documentation to present solid cases that will help you secure satisfactory results.
Contact Case Works today to discuss how we can alleviate the headaches and administrative nightmares associated with Plaintiff Fact Sheets!!