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Defective Airbag Actions Might be Headed to Pittsburgh for Decision

When defective products are sold nationwide and injury results from the use of the product it is only natural that a number of lawsuits are filed in various courts throughout the nation.  The parties of the action may want to consolidate all the actions with common issues of fact to streamline the legal process and preserve resources for potential recovery by the victims.  Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a term used to describe the consolidation of several federal actions filed in separate federal districts into one district for litigation and decision.

The U.S. Multidistrict Litigation panel is a federally created panel consisting of seven federal judges.  The seven judges are appointed by the U.S. Chief Justice.  The panel has the job of determining if civil actions pending in various federal districts involve common questions of fact such that they should be transferred to one federal district for coordination of pretrial proceedings.  The panel selects the judge(s) and the court assigned to handle the hearings.  Since its inception in 1968, the panel has heard consolidation requests in the form of motions in over 400,000 cases.  

There have been numerous cases filed due to the recall of defective airbags by the airbag manufacturer Takata as well as the automakers.  The defendants in these actions (Takata and automakers:  Honda, BMW, Ford, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota) have asked that these actions be handled by MDL in the federal district court located in Pittsburgh.  Counsel for the plaintiffs in these actions are divided on whether MDL in Pittsburgh would be agreeable to their clients.  

The initial request for consolidation came from approximately 20 plaintiffs, who wanted the cases consolidated in the Southern district in Florida where a federal judge had already handled similar suits.  Other groups of plaintiffs requested for consolidation in other federal districts including California and New York.  The defendants however collectively urged the panel to consolidate the actions to the Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh).  Their arguments for why the venue of Pittsburgh is desirable include its geographic location which is convenient to the parties and witnesses as well as that it has available judges to hear the action. 

The judge that would hear the cases is U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer.  Judge Fischer already handles some of the Takata cases filed in Pennsylvania.  Experts believe that the united front on the part of the defendants in wanting MDL in Pennsylvania is more of a statement on where they do not want to be.  The defendants may feel that Pennsylvania is a more conservative region as opposed to California or Florida.  

Regardless of the wants of either side, the MDL panel works independently to determine the proper venue for the actions.  We will have to wait and see if MDL is selected and if it is sent to Pennsylvania for litigation.

Sources:  "Air Bag MDL Against Takata Could be Headed to Western Pa.", by Saranac Hale Spencer, The Legal Intelligencer, December 3, 2014

U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation

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