In 2003, Japanese power sports equipment company Yamaha Corp. introduced a new all-terrain vehicle called the Rhino, which was designed to allow two passengers to sit side by side. The model quickly became popular with recreational sports enthusiasts, hunters, farmers and other consumers. A few years later, Yamaha added some safety modifications to the Rhino, including half doors and grab bars.
That’s when the lawsuits started rolling in.
Bellwether trials refer to the old shepherds’ practice of belling a wether, or putting a bell around the neck of a male sheep chosen to lead a flock. Similarly, the law community traditionally has used the term “bellwether” to refer to a trial that guides or governs the outcome of other similar lawsuits that are part of pattern litigation, including mass tort litigation, consolidated cases, multidistrict litigation and litigation in which individual cases involving similar issues are filed in multiple states.
There are no concrete rules about how cases should be selected as bellwether trials, which worries some scholars (see “Concerned Observers”).
Experts stress that corporate defendants should make sure they secure the appropriate resources and experts to put forth the best defense possible during bellwether trials. These factors will be important in determining how related cases unfurl.