Differences between Class Action Lawsuits and Mass Tort Claims

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 What Is A Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action is a lawsuit that is brought by one or more people, on behalf of a group of others who are in a similar situation. Everyone is required to share similar legal issues, and there must be enough individuals involved that it would not make sense for all of them to bring separate lawsuits.

The class must be certified by the court in order to bring an action. The court will consider the following before certification:

  • The plaintiffs must adequately represent the interests of the whole class;
  • There must be no conflicts of interest;
  • The plaintiffs must be competent;
  • The claims of the representatives must be similar and represent the entire class; and
  • The question of fact must come from one act, or a pattern of conduct by the defendant.

Initially, a person or group of people will bring a putative class action lawsuit against the defendant. The court will then decide whether to certify the lawsuit as a class action. If it does so, the original group will represent the entire class action group, and the case will move forward as a class action lawsuit.

If they refuse to certify the class, they should give their reason as to why. Generally, it is because they do not think that the class is complete; meaning, there could be more potential plaintiffs to join the class.

Some of the more common examples of class action lawsuits include, but are not limited to:

  • Pattern of discrimination by a large employer involving race, age, gender, or sexual orientation;
  • Employees harmed by a corporation’s unfair business practices;
  • Consumers affected by a defective product;
  • Patients harmed by unsafe drugs;
  • Consumers and merchants who have paid exorbitant prices for a product; and
  • Investors victimized by securities fraud.

Class action lawsuits are intended to protect those injured by large corporations or entities. There are numerous benefits for plaintiffs, as well as for the corporations they are suing. For the plaintiffs:

  • All plaintiffs, including ones that cannot afford legal counsel, can find legal relief;
  • Members of the class do not need to come before the court, and instead can join the named plaintiff; and
  • Members of the class have the chance to opt in and out of the settlement.

For the corporations being sued by the class action lawsuit, the defined benefit is that they can face one lawsuit instead of potentially thousands. This one lawsuit will also give them the opportunity to take time to collect evidence, negotiate a settlement, and address these issues.

What Is Mass Tort Litigation?

Mass tort litigation is a specific area of personal injury law involving injuries or losses to large groups of people. They most commonly involve injuries associated with defective products that have affected a large portion of the population. Because so many people are involved in mass tort claims, they are generally filed as class action lawsuits.

The majority of mass tort claims seek to hold large corporations and businesses liable for injuries to the public. The damages awarded in such cases can be staggeringly high. In response, some states have limited the amount of damages that a party can collect in a personal injury suit, especially those involving punitive damages for medical malpractice. However, plaintiffs generally receive what is considered to be a fair amount of compensation in mass tort lawsuits.

Most mass tort litigation claims involve personal injuries associated with:

How Do Class Action Lawsuits And Mass Tort Claims Compare To Each Other?

Lawsuits involving more than one plaintiff against the same or a group of the same defendants are often joined together. This is done in an effort to reduce the number of lawsuits, which helps the court hear the cases without having multiple cases against the same defendants pending at the same time. While these types of lawsuits are called either class action or mass tort lawsuits, there are distinct differences between the two.

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 in order to reduce the number of cases that the court must hear.

The defining difference between the two would be the way that they are treated by the court, as well as the injury or injuries that the plaintiffs experienced. To reiterate, class action lawsuits involve multiple plaintiffs with the same injury, while mass tort lawsuits involve multiple plaintiffs with different injuries.

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

An example of this would be if a group of fifty people were all given the same medication that was manufactured by the same company, and all of those people experienced the same injury from the medication. A class action lawsuit may be brought against the drug manufacturer; the key is that all of the plaintiffs share a common characteristic which would be the same injury from the same medication.

The group of fifty people who were injured by the medication may join together in the lawsuit in order 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.

As was previously mentioned, class action lawsuits must meet specific criteria. 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 the lawsuit; and
  • Their rights in the class action proceeding.

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

If the group of fifty people was all given the same medication that was made by the same company and all of them were injured by the medication, but the injuries were different, 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” as they can in a class action lawsuit.

Unlike class action lawsuits in which the class of plaintiffs is treated as a single plaintiff, in mass tort lawsuits, each plaintiff is 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.

This differs from a class action lawsuit, in which the chosen representative will be responsible for proving the facts, injuries, and need for compensation for the entire class of people.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Either A Class Action Lawsuit Or Mass Tort Claims?

If you have been injured and believe that you should join a class action lawsuit or mass tort claim, you should consult with a tort attorney. An experienced attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options, and will be aware of any class action or mass tort claims that you may join.

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