In order to reduce the number of cases, lawsuits that involve multiple plaintiffs against the same defendants are combined into class action lawsuits. Courts can not only clear these cases much quicker, but they’ll be able to reduce the number of cases being filed against the same defendants. Class action and mass tort claims involve large numbers of individuals who have faced similar types of harm, but both have their differences.

Like most cases, mass tort laws and class action lawsuits vary from state to state, but they both share the following similarities:

  • The cases involve numerous plaintiffs.
  • The plaintiffs are suing the same defendants.
  • To reduce the number of cases a court has to hear at one time, the lawsuits are combined.

The differences between mass torts and class action lawsuits stem from the injuries the plaintiffs experienced and how the cases are treated in court.

Class Action Lawsuits

Class action lawsuits must meet specific criteria and also have specific characteristics. Anyone involved in a class action lawsuit must be notified in writing regarding the case and given a choice to seek counsel or opt-out of it. A representative must file a class action lawsuit in court to act as a plaintiff on the entire class’s behalf before it can be established.

The following criteria have been established for class action lawsuits by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

  • Everyone in the class must receive a written notification about the lawsuit and be given a chance to either find their own legal representation or opt-out entirely.
  • For a plaintiff to act on behalf of a large group of people, a motion must be filed in court.
  • The plaintiff must prove that their experience with the product or the company represents the other class members involved in the suit.
  • The plaintiff must also prove that the lawsuit would ideally hold defendants responsible, unlike individual cases, which would be ineffective and not profitable for the participants involved.

In addition, any compensation each individual receives cannot be worth the costs or the time associated with hiring a lawyer for an individual lawsuit.

Mass Tort Lawsuits

Mass tort lawsuits occur when at least one piece of legal criteria for a class action lawsuit isn’t met. For the most part, mass tort lawsuits should only occur if every plaintiff in the group has different circumstances. Mass torts are only established if the factual scenarios between each plaintiff outweigh the normal qualifications that are necessary to file a class action lawsuit.

There are a variety of different mass tort claims that fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Toxic torts are known as special types of personal injury cases where a plaintiff claims that their exposure to a dangerous substance or chemical caused their disease or injury. (e.g., firefighting foam or weedkillers)
  • Defective devices or product liability (e.g., talcum powder or hernia mesh)
  • Dangerous pharmaceutical drugs (e.g., Truvada or Zantac)

Individuals who have lost a loved one due to exposure to a chemical or a pollutant, a faulty product, or a dangerous prescription medication may be able to receive financial compensation. Damages include money for future or current medical expenses, disfigurement and disability, lost wages, pain, suffering, or other emotional damages.

If a large group of individuals has suffered similar injuries, a mass tort can be a cost-efficient and effective way to get a fair outcome in a court of law. The evidence gathered during a mass tort process will benefit everyone in the claim, and they can also work out their individual settlement or take their individual case to court. With the assistance of a mass tort claim lawyer, participants will be able to reach a suitable outcome with the added advantage of pooling their own resources

Multidistrict Litigation and Mass Torts

There are often times in a mass tort lawsuit when a plaintiff can become part of multidistrict litigation, or MDL, a legal proceeding that occurs after numerous lawsuits have been filed by individuals in federal court who have sustained similar harm or injuries as a result of a company’s conduct.

For important legal hearings and discovery, the lawsuits are joined before a federal judge appoints a select group of lawyers to pursue the discovery on the injured individuals’ behalf. This group of lawyers is known as the PSC, or the plaintiffs’ steering committee. A multidistrict case can take years to resolve, as the firms that are appointed by the judge spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to prove the plaintiffs’ case.

No one person is required to participate in a settlement. The settlements are structured so that each person’s facts pertaining to the case are evaluated based on damages, causation, and exposure. Once every individual has heard the settlement terms, they can make their own decision.

Suppose the firms that participated in the multidistrict litigation are unable to work out a settlement. In that case, every individual will eventually have to try their cases before a jury or settle them on their own. The law firm the individual plaintiff hired to represent them will be responsible for assisting them with this. If, for some reason, an MDL cannot be settled, each client and firm will still be able to use any evidence that was gathered during the process in their cases.

How Are Mass Tort Claims Resolved

Mass tort cases can be resolved in two different ways:

  • A group or an organized settlement
  • Individual trials or settlements

Group settlements take each individual’s claim into account, and every participant can decide whether or not they wish to participate in the settlement after they have heard the proposed terms.            

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