What Exactly is a Bellwether Trial? A Plaintiff Perspective


bellwether trialA bellwether trial is a small consolidation of lawsuits, taken from a larger group of similar cases, to be tried first. The bellwether trial is like a practice run to help anticipate the results of the future similar cases.

Bellwether trials are often used in multidistrict litigations (MDL). An MDL is a federal legal procedure that helps fast-track civil lawsuits that have common “question of facts” that are pending in different federal district courts. The cases are fast-tracked by transferring and consolidating them for pretrial proceedings before a judge.

It would not be feasible to address the large number of sprawling lawsuits involved in an MDL so to better-manage the MDL, a bellwether trial, a smaller consolidation of these cases, is tried in front of the judge. If the outcome of these beginning cases goes well for the plaintiffs, the MDL’s lead attorneys can expect similar results and start to try the remaining suits.

An unsuccessful bellwether trial result might indicate to the lead attorneys that trying the remaining cases would be a waste of time and money. A bad bellwether result might also help the lead attorneys restructure the remaining cases so they might have more success in front of the judge.

Bellwether trials offer the unique opportunity for plaintiffs to test the structure of their case and see how the judge or jury perceive the argument. If the initial arguments have mixed success, the lead attorneys can try to restructure the argument in hopes of stronger results for the broader range of cases involved in the MDL.

The cases selected for a bellwether trial are meant to represent the broader range of cases involved in the MDL. The results of the bellwether trial are in no way definitive of other cases tried from the MDL. Rather, the bellwether trial results are just expectation indicators.

Successful bellwether trials can also be advantageous by influencing the defense to settle the remaining cases. If the bellwether plaintiffs are awarded a large verdict, the defense is more likely to be inclined to settle the remaining cases out-of-court, cutting the legal fees and making payouts larger for the plaintiffs.

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