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    Rule 213.1: Inter County Coordination of Litigation

    The Wave of the Future in Mass Tort Litigation
    By: Leonard V. Fodera, Esquire
    (This article is the second in a continuing series discussing medical device/implant litigation and methods employed by the courts to manage this mass and complex litigation. It first appeared in The Legal Intelligencer)

    For the second time in Pennsylvania, Rule 213.1 is being used statewide in connection with medical product liability mass tort actions. The motions for both rulings, which I personally filed, have coordinated action throughout the Commonwealth in two recent cases of medical liability mass tort, first regarding breast implant litigation in Pennsylvania, and second, on the ongoing pedicle screw litigation, currently being heard before Judge Sandra Mazer Moss, at the Complex Litigation Center in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia.

    Despite its successful application in these two instances, few attorneys, and even fewer common pleas judges, are aware of Rule 213.1's existence, or how it can be appropriately applied. As an attorney who has seen its application in action, I believe Rule 213.1 is an important, and under-used, procedural tool in the legal arsenal.

    Historically, Rule 213.1 dates back to July 1, 1990, when it was anticipated to be used to coordinate litigation in connection with multi-vehicle accidents. It stands to reason that if litigants live in different counties, coordinating any resulting litigation from the county in which the first suit was filed, before one judge, would be the most efficient way to handle a complex collection of cases.

    A good example of how 213.1 was applied in an accident situation was its use following Senator John Heinz's fatal helicopter crash. People and companies from multiple counties, including Luzerne, Philadelphia and Montgomery, were involved in the accident. Yet all litigation was coordinated from Montgomery County, where the first suit was filed.

    Rule 213.1's benefits as a multi-district litigation tool for mass tort were officially recognized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1992, when the Court appointed a three-judge panel, chaired by Judge Wettick of Allegheny County, to preside over all breast implant litigation in the state. From an attorney's perspective, the opportunity to litigate before the same judge or judges consistently is a benefit. Rule 213.1 is a means both to promote judicial efficiency and save judicial resources. The globalization of key depositions and expert witnesses for both the plaintiffs and defendants is an efficient, time-saving process. On a federal level, the counterpart to Rule 213.1 is the assigning of Multi-District Litigation status. If a case qualifies for MDL, the clerk of the federal MDL panel assigns it a number and an argument date, after which the attorneys involved file their positions for and against MDL status. If a panel of five to seven judges grants the litigation MDL status, the cases are assigned to one federal judge to oversee all related litigation nationwide. Historically, after the pretrial discovery and motions are completed, that judge will try the first few cases, flesh out the issues, and then send the individual cases back to the their original districts. The legal precedents, and decisions, made by the MDL coordinating judge are an important point of reference for all of the litigation that follows throughout the country.

    As we continue to move toward the global community of the 21st century where, unfortunately, mass tort litigation rises due to deregulation and the sheer volume of consumers of any one product or service, we can anticipate an upsurge in mass tort. With this upsurge will come the challenge, to both plaintiff attorneys and defense attorneys, as well as the judiciary, to ensure efficient, cost effective litigation management. In the Pennsylvania State Court System Rule 213.1 provides the vehicle, to all sides, for consistency, consolidation and an efficiency rarely seen in the legal system.

     

    This informational piece was prepared by Monheit, Silverman & Fodera. If you would like more information on this topic, call us at (800) 220-LAW1, or use the "Do I Have A Case?" button on this web site.


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