What is a Bellwether Trial?

A bellwether trial is used in federal multidistrict litigations and other mass tort proceedings to gain insight into how juries might decide similar lawsuits. Cases selected for these trials must be representative of other lawsuits pending in the litigation.

Why a Bellwether Trial?

It’s not unusual for a multidistrict litigation or other mass tort to involve hundreds – even thousands – of cases. Convening trials in all of these lawsuits would be time consuming and costly. Bellwether trials allow the parties to “test” a handful of representative cases in order to gauge the strength of plaintiffs’ claims and obtain insight into potential verdicts in similar lawsuits.

How Are Bellwether Trial Cases Selected?

Courts overseeing centralized litigations will generally formulate a bellwether trial plan early on in the proceeding. Case selection for the trials may be tasked to:

  • The presiding judge
  • Lawyers for plaintiffs or defendants
  • Random

Most often, the Court will direct attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants to each nominate a certain number of cases as bellwether trial candidates. The judge will then choose specific lawsuits from that pool for the trials.

What Happens to Other Cases in the Litigation During Bellwether Trials?

Once bellwether trial selections have been made, those cases will be fast-tracked for any remaining discovery. The parties will also have a chance to file dispositive motions and motions in limine, and they may even discuss settlements in individual bellwether cases. During this time, the Court will usually stay most pretrial proceedings in the other lawsuits pending in the litigation.

Can Bellwether Trials Lead to a Global Settlement

The verdicts in bellwether trials are never binding on other cases in a mass tort. However, if bellwether plaintiffs prevail before juries, those favorable decisions could encourage settlement discussions. However, there is never a guarantee that verdicts in bellwether trials will result in a global settlement to resolve all, or even a portion, of the cases pending in a mass tort. In fact, verdicts that largely favor the defense could adversely affect the willingness of defendants to settle future cases.

Are You Ready to File a Lawsuit?

Bernstein Liebhard LLP represents plaintiffs in mass tort litigations that involve injuries due to defective drugs, medical devices and consumer products. If you would like to learn more about filing a claim, please contact our office at (888) 994-5118.

  1. Tulane Law Review (2008)L “Bellwether Trials in Multidistrict Litigation” http://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/sites/jpml/files/Bellwether%20Trials%20in%20Multidistrict%20Litigation-Fallon_Grabill_Wynne-2008.pdf
Last Modified: June 2, 2016

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