Mass torts are civil lawsuits that usually have many plaintiffs suing one or a few corporations as defendants. Mass torts can be brought in state or federal courts. Courts refer to these action as mass torts in part due to the number of litigants, but also because of how the plaintiffs’ attorneys use mass media to discover more people who have been hurt by the corporation. For a lawsuit to be a mass tort, a product must have harmed many people, the same defendant caused those people harm, and they consolidate the suit into one action rather than separate lawsuits.
How Mass Torts Are Different Than Other Lawsuits
There are three factors that set mass torts apart from other personal injury lawsuits. First, they are volumes of claims against a single device or product. Second, though there are a large number of plaintiffs, the underlying facts from plaintiff to plaintiff are similar if not the same. Finally, the differing claims in mass torts will mutually rely on each other – each claim is a building block of the case.
Advances in technology, particularly production and distribution, are part of the reason why mass torts have become necessary in the legal arena. Because of large production and distribution, large numbers of people can be affected by a single product. Mass tort litigation involves many areas of the law, but the two most common mass tort claims involve:
- Pharmaceutical claims – Many pharmaceutical companies release products without proper testing or even knowing there are serious side effects. These can be prescribed drugs, over the counter medications or medical devices.
- Product claims – When a product is dangerous or doesn’t act as the consumer expects, the people who were injured by the hazardous device may sue the company through a product claim.
Permission to File a Mass Tort
In these situations, the lawyers of the plaintiffs have to ask the court for permission to file a mass tort action. To determine whether the court will give permission, judges must consider:
- The number of plaintiffs
- The location of the plaintiffs to each other
- The similarities of the plaintiffs’ injuries
- Whether there is a common cause among the plaintiffs
If the court decides the case in question is a mass tort, the judge will quickly assign the case and may even order that the attorneys publicize the lawsuit in case there are others who have been harmed by the product and want to add their name to the lawsuit.
A mass tort differs from a class action tort, though it is a kind of class action. In a mass tort, plaintiffs each have an individual claim. Every plaintiff has his or her own trial. In a class action there is one trial, and the law doesn’t consider the plaintiffs as individuals.
Pros and Cons of a Mass Tort Suit
When a large group is organized, mass tort litigation can be efficient and cost-effective. Generally, attorneys handle most of the litigation, and plaintiffs have a smaller role. It’s also easier for a court to see the effects of a defective product when there are similar proofs among plaintiffs. Despite these pros, mass tort cases can be a challenge, as many courts simply don’t have the equipment to handle such a large group of litigants. Corporations may claim they cannot fairly defend themselves against so many claims.
These suits hinge on a qualified and experienced attorney. A mass tort lawyer who fails to organize the many people in the group can ruin these cases, even causing unfair allocation of the settlement. To discuss whether your injury is part of a larger class action or mass tort, call Anapol Weiss for your free consultation.