Lawsuits involving more than one plaintiff against the same or a group of the same defendants are often joined together to reduce the number of lawsuits. This helps the court hear the cases without having multiple cases against the same defendants pending at the same time.

These types of lawsuits are called either class action or mass tort lawsuits, but there are distinct differences between the two and it is important to know these differences. If you are unsure whether you have a lawsuit or whether you belong to a class action or mass tort lawsuit, it is best to consult a personal injury attorney.

As with most cases, class action and mass tort laws vary by state. Class action and mass tort lawsuits share the following characteristics:

  1. They involve more than one plaintiff;
  2. The plaintiffs are suing the same defendants; and
  3. The lawsuits are combined to reduce the number of cases the court has to hear

The difference between the two is the way they are treated by the court and the injury or injuries the plaintiffs experienced.

Class Action Lawsuits: Multiple Plaintiffs with the Same Injury

A class action lawsuit involves multiple plaintiffs who have experienced the same injury from the same defendant. In a class action, there are:

  1. Multiple plaintiffs, or people, who have been injured;
  2. The injury or injuries are the same or substantially similar; and/or
  3. The injured people are suing the same defendants.

Typically, in a class action, the plaintiffs are grouped by “classes” based on their injury and a representative is selected to protect the interests of each class. The class, or group of plaintiffs, is treated as a single plaintiff through the class representative.

Class action lawsuits involve a variety of defendants, such as pharmaceutical companies who manufacture medication or a cell phone company who overcharged its customers.

To illustrate how a class action lawsuit may work, assume a group of fifty people were all given the same medication manufactured by the same company and all of those people experienced the same injury from the medication, then a class action lawsuit may be brought against the drug manufacturer. The key here is that all of the plaintiffs share a common characteristic: the same injury from the same medication.

If this were the case, then the group of fifty people who were injured by the medication may join together in the lawsuit to file one lawsuit against the drug manufacturer rather than all fifty people filing separately. A class representative would be selected and the entire class of people would be treated as one plaintiff. This reduces the number of lawsuits from fifty to one.

Class action lawsuits must meet very specific criteria and any person who may have experienced the same injury as the other people in the class will be notified, usually by mail, about the lawsuit, how they can join, and their rights in the class action proceeding.

Mass Tort Lawsuits: Multiple Plaintiffs with Different Injuries

Mass tort lawsuits usually involve:

  1. Multiple plaintiffs, or people, who have been injured
  2. The plaintiffs were injured by the same defendant or defendants

Mass tort lawsuits differ from class action lawsuits because although the plaintiffs have all been injured by the same defendant or defendants, their injuries may not be the same. Each plaintiff will still need to prove their facts and injury or injuries caused by the defendant.

Mass tort is sometimes called mass toxic tort depending on the cause of the injuries and defendants involved, especially if the injury or injuries are caused by toxic exposure.

Using the same example, if a group of fifty people was all given the same medication made by the same company and all of them were injured by the medication, but the injuries were different, then a mass tort lawsuit may be more appropriate than a class action. When the plaintiffs have different injuries, they cannot be grouped together in “classes” like they can in a class action lawsuit.

Unlike class action lawsuits where the class of plaintiffs is treated as a single plaintiff, in mass tort lawsuits, each plaintiff is still responsible for proving the facts of their case, that their injuries are caused by the defendant or defendants, and that they are entitled to receive compensation or damages for their injuries.

Notice this is different than a class action lawsuit, where the chosen representative will be responsible for proving the facts, the injuries, and the need for compensation for the entire class of people.

Should I Contact a Lawyer If I Think I Belong to a Mass Tort or a Class Action?

There are specific laws for class action lawsuits and if a case does not meet the requirements for a class action proceeding, it is often considered a mass tort lawsuit. Mass tort lawsuits are very complicated and are handled differently than a class action.

In either case, it is best to find a local personal injury attorney for a consultation and to assist you in determining whether a class action or mass tort lawsuit is appropriate for your case.