Severing a multi-plaintiff lawsuit into individual trials is not warranted under the FRCP: (1) a single trial would be more efficient than multiple trials, (2) the parties' claims and defenses arise from the same transaction, and (3) any potential prejudice to the defendants can be averted by appropriate jury instructions.
Plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging that DDT from defendant's manufacturing plan contaminated individual properties. Plaintiffs sought class action status, but the trial court denied certification on the ground that they did not have enough questions in common. Defendants moved to sever the plaintiffs' claims into five different trials, on the ground that a single trial would be inefficient and prejudicial to them. A potential case would involve a mix of common and individualized evidence. However, the same experts would testify for the plaintiffs at trial, and they all lived out of state.
Should the Court should grant the defendants' motion to sever the trials?
In denying the defendants' motion, the Court found the defendants' argument to be unpersuasive. They found that the plaintiffs' claims arise out of the same transaction, because all of their claims were logically related to the defendants' emanation of DDT. Further, there is a fundamental core of legal and factual issues common to all of the plaintiffs' claims, and it would not make sense to require such issues to be heard repeatedly, in multiple trials. Even though the plaintiffs’ claims involve individualized evidence, that fact alone is insufficient to warrant severing the case. Nine expert witnesses, all of whom live out of state, will likely be called to testify with respect to each plaintiff. Requiring those witnesses to return on five separate occasions would be inefficient and potentially cost-prohibitive. Essentially, severance would create a substantial burden upon the parties, and that outweighs the inefficiency of a single trial. Accordingly, the defendants’ motion is denied.