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State or Federal? How Attorneys Choose the Proper Jurisdiction for Medication Mass Torts

State or Federal? How Attorneys Choose the Proper Jurisdiction for Medication Mass Torts

A defective drugs lawsuit, or personal injury claim, allows you to collect money for your injuries if you've been harmed by a defective drug. But how does your pharmaceutical litigation lawyer decide where to file a lawsuit?

Understanding the Court System

The U.S. court system can be confusing, particularly for a non-lawyer. Briefly:

There are two types of legal matters: Criminal matters and civil matters. Personal injury lawsuits—including defective drug litigation—are decided in civil court. Other types of legal matters that would be decided in civil court include divorce cases, probate cases and contract disputes.

One easy way to generally know if something is a civil or criminal case: Civil cases involve disputes between two parties, such as two corporations or two individuals, where one party (the plaintiff who feels it has been wronged brings a lawsuit against the party that caused it harm (the defendant) . A criminal case always involves a government entity (the prosecutor) bringing a case against a person or a company (the defendant) that may have broken the law.

There are federal courts and state courts. The U.S. Constitution and some federal laws grant federal courts the power to resolve certain kinds of legal matters, such as those related to bankruptcy and immigration. (This is known as subject-matter jurisdiction.)

State courts, on the other hand, have the authority to decide cases involving state laws. This would include traffic violations (heard in the state's criminal courts) and personal injury cases (heard in the state's civil courts). The case would typically be filed in the court of the state where either the injury occurred or the defendant resides.

However, certain cases that would typically be heard in state courts can be moved to federal courts because of something known as diversity jurisdiction. If none of the plaintiffs (the person injured by the defective drug) and none of the defendants (typically the drug manufacturer) reside or are located in the same state, there exists what is known as complete diversity, and the case may be heard in federal court. Sometimes a defective drug plaintiff who wants to keep the case in state court will file the lawsuit against the drug manufacturer as well as the local pharmacy where the drug was purchased. This would force the case to remain in state court.

Which Court Has Authority to Hear a Defective Drugs Lawsuit?

Because a defective drug lawsuit is a type of personal injury claim, your lawsuit will, by default, be filed in state court. That's because the state court has jurisdiction over personal injury claims. But if there's complete diversity, the case may be moved to federal court.

However, when many people have been harmed by the same drug, it's known as a mass tort. The drug manufacturer may face thousands of similar lawsuits filed in state courts across the country.

Each mass tort lawsuit can take months or years to go to trial. And both the plaintiff (the injured person) and the defendant (the pharmaceutical company) can spend countless hours preparing the case. And as you might imagine, almost identical cases heard in different state courts can have very different outcomes. This isn't fair for either the plaintiff or the defendant.

The U.S. legal system has two ways of resolving these cases more quickly and fairly, at a lower cost to everyone involved:

  • A class action lawsuit consolidates all similar cases—and even cases that haven't been filed yet—into a single case which may be decided in either a state or a federal court, or
  • All federal lawsuits may be moved from their respective federal courts into a single federal court. This is known as multi-district litigation, and allows one or several judge to hear all of the related cases, making for more efficient and consistent resolution of defective drug claims.

Visit LawyerLocator for more information about defective drugs or to locate a mass tort attorney in your area.