We’ve seen the latest affirmance of largely identical verdicts in a consolidated MDL trial in Campbell v. Boston Scientific Corp., ___ F.3d ___, 2018 WL 732371 (4th Cir. Feb. 6, 2018). We’re not discussing Campbell’s merits today. For present purposes, suffice it to say that the consolidation- and punitive damages-related rulings aren’t that much different from Eghnayem v. Boston Scientific Corp., 873 F.3d 1304 (11th Cir. 2017), about which we blogged, here.
More generally, both of those cases, as well as the course of the Pinnacle Hip litigation described in several of our prior posts as well as in In re Depuy Orthopaedics, Inc., 870 F.3d 345 (5th Cir. 2017) (“Pinnacle Hip”) (which we discussed, here), illustrate an adverse trend in MDLs. That trend is to replace the traditional (if anything in MDL practice can be called traditional) bellwether trials with consolidated multi-plaintiff trials including allegations of punitive damages. We’ve already expressed our jaundiced view towards consolidated product liability trials as inherently prejudicial against defendants, for a variety of reasons discussed in that post. For obvious reasons, facing punitive damages is likewise not favorable to a defendant in a trial.
As our prior consolidation post discussed at some length, defendants saddled with consolidated trials in personal injury cases used to have reason to expect appellate relief. Identical or nearly identical verdicts were considered evidence that the jury was either unable to keep multiple individual cases straight or overwhelmed by all the factual evidence, or both. However, the recent Campbell decision, added to other recent events, makes us believe that the ability to obtain such relief has never been more questionable.
Hence, we offer an idea that has been percolating here ever since the decision in Pinnacle Hip. We mentioned it at last December’s ACI Drug and Medical Device Litigation conference, and it was received as a good idea by most defense counsel we talked to, so here goes….
Only you can prevent multi-plaintiff consolidated punitive damages trials.
We recognize that such trials cannot always be prevented – this idea wouldn’t have worked in Campbell, for example − but MDL defendants should seriously consider limiting their so-called “Lexecon waivers,” to the extent they are willing to give them at all.
What does that mean?
Basically, Lexecon Inc. v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U.S. 26 (1998), held that MDL judges can’t try cases transferred to them from another judicial district under the MDL statute, 28 U.S.C. §1407. They can try cases properly filed in the same judicial district and then transferred to them as related cases (what happened in Campbell), but all other MDL trials require a Lexecon waiver of trial in the original transferor court.
The Fifth Circuit made clear in the Pinnacle Hip decision that a Lexecon waiver, like any other waiver, must be “clear and unambiguous” to be effective. Id. at 351. Thus, we think it would be a good idea for MDL defendants to tailor any future Lexecon waivers so that they apply only to single-plaintiff trials, and exclude punitive damages. As for consolidation, a Lexecon waiver excluding consolidation simply preserves the manner in which cases have been tried, including MDL bellwethers, for decades or longer. As for punitive damages, bifurcating out such allegations has been commonplace in asbestos litigation, and has been employed in other mass torts as well, such as opt out cases in the Diet Drug litigation.
Even if courts seem less inclined to recognize it, everyone on the defense side knows how prejudicial multi-plaintiff consolidations and punitive damages allegations are during trials. To the extent possible, defendants should consider self-help, in the form of limited Lexecon waivers, to prevent such prejudicial procedures.