Largest MDL in History — on Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure — Winding Down

MDL-875 is the consolidation of federal lawsuits from across the country of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. It is the largest multidistrict litigation in U.S. history. More than 22 years after its creation, MDL-875 is winding down.

However, the change in how federal lawsuits filed by mesothelioma patients and their loved ones are being handled does not prevent newly diagnosed mesothelioma patients from filing a suit. Oklahoma residents who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or who have a family member who has been afflicted with the disease should contact an attorney to learn more about asbestos legal action and asbestos trust funds.

Dozens of trust funds containing billions of dollars in assets have been created, funded by assets recovered from asbestos-related companies which have gone bankrupt. Awards and settlements of mesothelioma lawsuits are being paid from those trust funds.

In 1991, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) transferred all federal asbestos-related personal injury claims to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. After more than 22 years of operation, that MDL is now winding down.  In a Caseload Statistics report published earlier this month by the Pennsylvania court, it was reported that only 2,142 asbestos cases were transferred to the MDL in 2012 and only 143 in 2013.

For many other legal issues, more than 2,000 federal cases in the last two years would be considered a large number. But the Pennsylvania MDL has handled almost ten times that many mesothelioma asbestos-exposure cases. According to the Caseload Statistics, a total of 186,583 cases have been transferred to MDL-875. The vast majority of those have now been resolved or remanded back to lower courts, but 2,990 cases are still pending in the MDL.

More than 500 of the 186,583 total cases originated in Oklahoma federal courts: 304 in the Western District of Oklahoma, 223 in the Northern District of Oklahoma and 29 in the Eastern District of Oklahoma. All of the Oklahoma cases have been resolved or remanded.

The declining number of MDL-875 cases are the result of a December 2011 decision by the MDL Judicial Panel to discontinue transferring federal cases to the Pennsylvania court.

MDL-875 made legal history and will be studied by attorneys and the courts for years to come. The American Bar Association has a 36-slide PowerPoint available online titled: MDL-875: Past, Present and Future. It quotes a federal committee in a 1991 report:

“[The use of asbestos] is a tale of danger known about in the 1930s, [with] exposure inflicted upon millions of Americans in the 1940s and 1950s, injuries that began to take their toll in the 1960s, and a flood of lawsuits beginning in the 1970s.”

As the ABA presentation reveals, mesothelioma asbestos litigation has worked through three distinct phases during the past two-plus decades. In the 1990s, a group of plaintiffs attempted to join together to pursue their cases as a class action. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the class of hundreds of thousands of potential claimants was too large and their individual claims too diverse to group together in a class.

After that ruling, Congress attempted for several years to resolve the claims through a series of proposed legislation in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2005. The goal of the various proposals was to create a way to compensate mesothelioma victims without the need for thousands upon thousands of individual lawsuits. However, none of the proposals was passed.

Finally, the Pennsylvania court began in 2006 to work through the 186,583 cases that have come before it. Although MDL-875 is now winding down, it does not mean that it is too late for a mesothelioma patient to file a claim. It simply means that future federal cases will not automatically be transferred to the Pennsylvania court.

Because exposure to asbestos can take as long as 50 years to result in a mesothelioma diagnosis, about 3,000 new diagnoses continue to be made each year. People who were exposed to asbestos during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are only being diagnosed with mesothelioma now.

If you are an Oklahoma resident who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or you are the family member of someone who has, you will find more information about mesothelioma, asbestos exposure and your legal rights on our webpage: Mesothelioma: Asbestos Cancer. FAQs and Your Legal Rights.