An interesting snapshot of mass torts and product liability actions in the federal courts is found in the annual report, “Judicial Business of the United States Courts: 2008 Annual Report of the Director.”  This report is produced by the Statistics Division, Office of Judges Programs, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts The latest report shows that a surge in asbestos cases drove a significant rise in new federal personal injury and product liability litigation.

Overall, civil filings increased 4 percent in 2008 to 267,257, and the national pending civil caseload climbed 12 percent to 298,129, the report said.  The rise in diversity of citizenship filings resulted chiefly from personal injury cases related to asbestos, especially in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and diet drugs in the Eastern District of Arkansas. According to court officials, asbestos filings under MDL 875 and diet drug filings under MDL 1203 caused filings to swell by more than 19,500 cases. About 99,000 asbestos-related cases containing at least 3.3 million claims are pending in the MDL in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (In the Arkansas Prempro MDL, which consists of thousands of cases, the judge has ordered the plaintiffs to complete discovery involving defendants Pfizer Inc. and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc. by Sept. 1 , 2009) .

In the 2007 reporting period, a total of 29,291 product liability cases were commenced in federal courts, and in the same period ending in 2008, that number jumped to 53,102, based largely on the surge in asbestos-related filings .

The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation acted upon 35,987 civil actions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1407 during the 12-month period ending September 30, 2008. The Panel transferred 8,156 cases originally filed in 92 district courts to 52 transferee districts for inclusion in coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings with 27,831 actions initiated in the transferee districts. Product liability cases involving the hormone therapy drug Prempro and the Kugel Mesh Hernia Patch were among the more significant of the Panel’s transfer determinations during the report period. The Panel did not order transfer in 25 newly docketed litigations involving 150 actions.

Since the creation of the Panel in 1968, it has centralized 301,255 civil actions for pretrial proceedings. As of September 30, 2008, a total of 11,665 actions had been remanded for trial, 395 actions had been reassigned within the transferee district, and 186,747 actions had been terminated in the transferee court. At the end of this fiscal year, 102,448 actions were pending throughout 60 transferee district courts.

The federal judiciary calls the report the most comprehensive set of detailed statistical tables published on its work.