The popularity of vaping (especially among teens) has led to concerns over the safety of e-cigarettes and the marketing practices of companies like Juul Labs, Inc. (manufacturer of JUUL products).
Thousands of lawsuits over JUUL and other e-cigarette products allege a variety of legal theories, including negligence, product liability, fraud, and deceptive marketing. With so many plaintiffs filing so many claims, it might seem that the majority of litigation would involve class action lawsuits against Juul Labs Inc. and other manufacturers, but that's not the reality.
When many plaintiffs sue just one or a few defendants concerning a similar wrongful act, there are two primary procedural options. The first option is one most people are familiar with: the class action lawsuit. Here, we have one or a small group of plaintiffs representing the interests of an entire group, or "class." The lead plaintiffs are the ones actually litigating the case.
In a class action lawsuit, what happens to the lead plaintiffs also applies to other class members. For example, if the lead plaintiffs settle their case or win at trial, the recovery will go to both the lead plaintiffs and the class.
The key in a class action lawsuit is that the facts and circumstances surrounding each plaintiff are identical or very similar. So it makes sense that the outcome applies to everyone.
The second procedural option is multi-district litigation, or MDL. This process is very different from a class action lawsuit because it consolidates numerous individual civil lawsuits into a single court (versus a class action, which consolidates numerous plaintiffs into a single case).
One purpose of MDL is to more efficiently handle pretrial matters, like "discovery," and to make it easier for the parties to work toward settlement. Ideally, litigants involved in the MDL will reach a global settlement that applies to most or all of the parties.
In some cases, in order for a global settlement to occur, a certain percentage of plaintiffs must agree to it. Though even when enough plaintiffs approve the settlement, each still has the right to proceed with his or her own case if they don't agree to the settlement.
One way an MDL helps facilitate settlement is by having a small number of "bellwether trials," which are test cases that allow everyone involved to get a preview of sorts—what to expect should the case go to trial. The better the bellwether trials go for one particular side, the more motivated the parties might be to settle, especially the losing side.
If there is no settlement following the bellwether trials, each case will be continued back in its home court.
The majority of cases involved in JUUL litigation are in the following MDL: In re: Juul Labs, Inc. Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation MDL No. 2913, which is before Judge William H. Orrick, III in the Northern District of California.
There are at least several hundred lawsuits in the JUUL MDL, and they consist of a combination of both individual and class action cases.
The individual cases focus on recovering for health problems related to use of JUUL. These often include conditions such as:
Class action cases in the MDL tend to focus less on personal injuries and more on consumer fraud and misrepresentation claims, including:
Some proposed class action cases plead a combination of both personal injury and consumer fraud claims. However, it's unlikely that the court will approve a class action lawsuit that consists mostly of vaping illness claims. That's because there will be significant differences in claimed injuries, as well as the facts surrounding those injuries.
For example, one plaintiff might assert that they suffered from nicotine poisoning because the JUUL product they used had an inadequate warning label. A different plaintiff might allege that JUUL engaged in illegal marketing to minors and as a result, the minor plaintiff now suffers from popcorn lung. The types of evidence and legal theories will vary significantly between these two kinds of cases. So it wouldn't be feasible to handle both within the same class action.
The JUUL MDL also includes cases filed on behalf of school districts and government entities.
The MDL is currently handling pretrial motions (including motions to dismiss) and figuring out how to handle "discovery" matters (like depositions of plaintiffs and others). Any bellwether trial isn't likely to occur for another few years, perhaps longer.
If you're thinking about filing a lawsuit over health problems that could be related to your use of a vaping product like JUUL, a lawyer can help you determine the best course of action for your individual case. Learn more about finding the right attorney for your JUUL case and how your lawyer will be paid.