Many people are not sure whether mass tort litigation is just another word for class action lawsuits. Or, if people know there is a difference, they are hard pressed to identify what exactly distinguishes the two.
In reality, while mass torts and class actions have some similarities, the two legal actions have some critical differences. Even though both of these types of actions involve claims initiated by a group against one or multiple defendants, the manner in which these people are treated varies greatly based on what procedure is involved.
The biggest and most substantial difference between mass torts and class actions involves what degree of control plaintiffs have. Mass torts bear a closer resemblance to traditional legal claims in which each plaintiff is viewed by the court as a lone entity. Meanwhile, mass torts are often smaller than class action lawsuits. In exchange for less control, class actions offer the advantage that each plaintiff has a little control over the case’s outcome.
The Essential Elements of Mass Torts
Mass torts have a close resemblance to standard negligence lawsuits, only mass torts involve a much larger number of entities from similar geographic areas. A person can file mass torts in either federal or state court based on unique factors in the case.
Either one or many defendants are involved in mass torts. Plaintiffs in mass torts might pursue recompense for similar financial or physical harm they encountered due to the same circumstance or circumstances. Most mass torts arise from acts of either negligence or misconduct. Mass targets sometimes involve corporations, but they can also involve individuals as defendants.
To be joined in a mass tort, the parties who initiate the legal action must have something more in common than just pursuing compensation from the same defendant. Instead, mass tort cases must involve multiple parties that incurred injuries due to the same defendant or defendants.
Some of the most common bases for mass torts include harmful drugs or defective medical products that led to injuries in the users. When pursued against large medical manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, mass torts offer the additional advantage of maintaining individual cases along with the benefits of the strength of the group. When subject matter or other aspects of a lawsuit do not constitute a class action, mass tort litigation is often pursued.
To streamline litigation as well as conservee court resources, judges routinely combine cases into one mass tort litigation. In the biggest cases, courts might decide to consolidate lawsuits filed throughout various jurisdictions. Despite the joinder of lawsuits, plaintiffs often remain individual parties to these cases.
Mass torts almost always take years to resolve. One reason these cases take so long is that each plaintiff has the right to refuse offered settlement amounts.
Deciding Whether to File a Mass Tort Lawsuit
As opposed to class actions, mass tort lawsuits permit more variability in regards to the compensation that can be received by plaintiffs. While only one lawsuit must be filed in a class action, a mass tort lawsuit often consists of a larger group of suits. Each plaintiff has their own lawsuit in a mass tort.
The primary advantage of mass tort lawsuits over singular class actions is the efficiency. Lawyers are more affordable for parties involved in mass tort litigation because costs are shared over a group of plaintiffs. Additionally, lawyers can use the facts as well as decisions made in one case to help injured parties obtain compensation rather than having to start each case over entirely from the beginning.
Class Action Lawsuits
Class actions are unique from mass tort lawsuits in the sense that class actions are guided by a limited representative group rather than each plaintiff named in the lawsuit remaining independent. Most of the class members in class action lawsuits have no power in deciding the way in which the lawsuit proceeds. These lawsuits often involve widespread claims connected to deadly or dangerously defective products.
Not all potential plaintiffs in class actions are required to approve of the case before it moves forward. Any person who files a class action lawsuit must notify all potential “class members” as well as give these individuals the opportunity to leave the lawsuit. Class members can decide to exit a class action lawsuit and pursue individual lawsuits on their own if they decide to do so.
Most times, class action lawsuits are filed in federal court. Federal rules even exist to certify class action lawsuits and are located in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s Rule 23. Some of the specific provisions found in Rule 23 include:
- Class size must be big enough that pursuing an individual lawsuit is impractical
- The case’s legal issues must be common among the class
- Defenses as well as claims initiated by class representatives must be held by the class
- Class representatives must be able to adequately protect te full class’s interests
A Special Note on Multidistrict Litigation
Slightly related to mass torts and class actions is multi district litigation, which involves plaintiffs in various districts. Multidistrict litigation occurs when multiple people initiate lawsuits in federal court due to injuries or harm caused by a company’s negligence or harm. People who pursue multi district litigation often reside and file their claims in different jurisdictions and the multidistrict litigation helps to make the process much more streamlined. In multidistrict litigation, one judge often oversees all of the lawsuits and appoints a committee of lawyers to represent the plaintiffs. Multidistrict litigation can lead to mass tort settlement in some cases, but if a case does not lead to compensation, plaintiffs sometimes pursue damages through individual lawsuits.
Contact an Experienced Class Action or Mass Tort Attorney
The primary difference between class action and mass tort litigation is the contrast in what rights plaintiffs hold. Both of these options, however, offer victims a chance to hold the responsible party accountable and obtain the compensation they deserve. Contact the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe LLP today to schedule a free case evaluation.
For a free legal consultation, call 516-358-6900