WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Have the benefits of processing mass tort injury claims through multidistrict litigation (MDLs) worn thin?

At the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform's annual summit on Wednesday, Bayer Corp. vice president and associate general counsel Malini Moorthy said MDLs make a lot of sense in not duplicating discovery and avoiding inconsistent rulings, but their growth also has resulted in the filing of meritless claims.

She likened the expansion of MDLs, which dominate federal court civil dockets, to the famous Field of Dreams line that if built, people will come.

"And, boy, did they," she said.

Pharmaceutical MDLs often involve the claims of tens of thousands plaintiffs and the ultimate end game on the plaintiff side is to reach a global settlement, Moorthy said.

The courts have been "enablers in all this," she said, because they are "pushing us to settlement."

"With 50, 60, 70,000 claims how do you get out without a resolution?" she said.

"Judges in MDLs are thinking their role is resolution. But resolution isn't settlement alone."  

Among 17 personal injury-related MDLs, all but two involve pharmaceuticals. Others are the Volkswagen emissions suits and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation. Those 17 cover 41 percent of the nation's federal civil docket, she said.

Moorthy said she sees tide changes coming through defense moves for summary judgment and interlocutory appeals - ones that are made while litigation is ongoing rather than at the conclusion of a case.

She also said that approximately 40 percent of plaintiff claims in personal injury MDLs end up getting zeroed out.

"They should never have been filed," she said. "They are too bare bones to actually vet."

Claims that get zeroed out, which she said "confounds" judges, probably should be gotten rid of earlier in the course of litigation.

She also said there needs to be a more standardized process and set of criteria to winnow out meritless claims.

Another side effect of the growth of MDLs is the loss of filing fees. Moorthy calculated that $10.2 million is what federal and state courts have lost in fees.

The ILR owns Legal Newsline.

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