In layman's terms, bellwether trials are the first cases to be tried in a group of similar cases.
In July 2010, a jury delivered a 12-0 verdict in Yamaha's favor in the first bellwether case to be tried out of hundreds of consolidated cases involving Rhino-related injuries across the country.
also recently have been obtaining victories in major bellwether cases.
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.
The bellwether trial is a high-visibility trial that sends a message," he says.
Plaintiffs examine the outcomes of bellwether trials in order to decide whether similar cases should be abandoned or settled for nominal amounts, or whether the litigation might proceed to a point that could result in a significant settlement from the defendants.
Professor Alexandra Lahav of the University of Connecticut School of Law says more judges have been structuring consolidated mass tort cases into bellwether trials over the past five years.
Merck fought the claims and prevailed in four of five total Vioxx bellwether trials.
There are no concrete rules about how cases should be selected as bellwether trials, which worries some scholars (see "Concerned Observers").