What is multi-party litigation?

Since the 1970s, groups of plaintiffs have banded together to file consolidated lawsuits against the manufacturers of certain products. These cases are often referred to as class-action suits. By joining together, plaintiffs can achieve a balance of power with major manufacturers, which may bring about an earlier, a fairer, and a more efficient resolution of their claims.

The makers of silicone breast implants, contraceptive devices like the Dalkon Shield, asbestos products, and tobacco products, to name just a few, have all encountered this type of litigation. In many states, one judge is appointed to handle all cases involving claims against a particular manufacturer. This approach spares the defendants from separately defending many individual claims, but even this method can prove costly because the defendants may be forced to pay significant damage awards. Nonetheless, class-action suits are usually a better method of resolving disputes when potential litigants are many and they are scattered throughout the country.

In other cases, there is only one plaintiff but multiple defendants. This situation arises when the plaintiff is unable at the outset of a case to identify which particular defendant is responsible for his or her injuries. Multiple defendants have been named in cases involving pregnancy drugs, asbestos, and other products. Once the lawsuit is initiated, the defendants may be able to get dismissed from the case if they can prove that they are free from liability.