Class Action and Mass Torts - An Overview
What is the Difference Between a Class Action and a Mass Tort?
When one person or entity injures a group of people in the same way, often the best legal approach is a mass tort or a class action lawsuit. To file this type of personal injury lawsuit, the defendant’s actions must have caused plaintiffs’ injuries and the injuries must be similar in nature in both class action and mass tort cases. Below we take a look at the difference between a class action and mass tort.
1. Class Actions
Class actions allow the court to condense lawsuits that have many plaintiffs. Through this consolidation process, the plaintiffs are all treated as one group and not as individual cases.
A class action allows the attorneys and defendant to consolidate all the evidence, witnesses, and other aspects of the litigation into a single case. Class actions also allow plaintiffs with minor injuries to seek damages as part of the class, whereas an individual lawsuit would not have been practical.
Forming the Class
Each class will have an individual appointed as the representative. Typically, the representative is the plaintiff who filed the initial lawsuit, and the representative will act on behalf of the entire class. It is the representative’s responsibility to provide notice to everyone who may potentially be a member of the class. Notice to potential class members is typically provided through advertisements on television or in newspapers and magazines. Once individuals receive the notice, they may choose to join the class or pursue their own, personal lawsuits.
Decisions and Awards
A class action judgment applies to every member of the class. As a member of the class, individuals will share in any award won. With the judge’s assistance, the parties and attorneys develop a plan to distribute the amount that the class won in the lawsuit. Each member of the class may receive a percentage of the award or receive a specific dollar figure. There are times when the award will vary based on each individual’s circumstances and the individual value of their particular claim.
Unfortunately, if the lawsuit is dismissed or the defendant wins, the outcome applies to the entire class as well. Once a decision is made, class members are prohibited from pursuing an individual lawsuit against the same defendant.
Settlements in Class Actions
When the parties reach a settlement, the judge must approve it to ensure fairness to all parties. All class members must be given notice of the settlement and will have the opportunity to object to it and vocalize their objection to the judge. Often, the members of the class will vote on whether to accept a settlement offer. If the majority approve of it, then the class will accept the settlement.
2. Mass Tort Litigation
When filing a mass tort litigation, plaintiffs are still considered individual cases, unlike with class actions. Whereas class action lawsuits place all members into a single class, mass tort plaintiffs maintain their lawsuits separately. Mass tort litigation is utilized when the same defendant injures a group of plaintiffs, but the injuries are all different. In such a scenario, it’s challenging to lump all of the victims into one big case.
Advantages of Mass Torts
One significant advantage of Mass torts, like class-action lawsuits, consolidate the pre-trial and early litigation stages. For example, if one plaintiff provides testimony, all parties may be able to use that testimony. Avoiding the need for the same information from each party saves the courts and parties time and money.
Mass Tort Settlement Process
The key distinction between mass torts and class actions is during the trial and award or settlement process. Once the lawsuit advances past the information collecting stages, each plaintiff proceeds individually. Therefore, the plaintiff is not bound by any settlement or outcome in another plaintiff’s case.
Common Class action and Mass Tort Lawsuits
Class actions and mass tort lawsuits are pursued in certain circumstances. Below are the most common types of cases when they are utilized:
● Dangerous Drugs and Medical Devices – When a pharmaceutical or medical device company develops products that result in personal injuries to a large number of plaintiffs.
● Defective Product – When a company’s product harms a group of people, a mass tort or class action lawsuit will typically result. These are most commonly seen against car manufacturers.
● Toxic Substances – Class actions or mass torts are used when people suffer harm from toxic substances. An example would be when workers were not informed that they would to be working near a poisonous substance, such as asbestos. As a result, those workers may come together and sue the employer for the resulting harm.
Picking The Right Class Action or Mass Tort Attorney
Class action and mass torts can be legally complicated and technical. To achieve the best result, choose an attorney who specializes in class actions or mass tort litigation. Lawsuits are often the most challenging thing a person will go through, so take your time picking an attorney. A great attorney will guide you through the legal aspect and be there for you when things may become emotionally draining. Many attorneys in personal injury recognize they are not only their clients’ lawyer but also their therapist. Dealing with a class action or mass tort lawsuit can be one of the most challenging times of your life. Make sure you have an attorney you can lean on.