Mass Tort vs. Class Action

There are times when multiple people suffer injuries for the same reason. This might involve a defective product, toxic exposure, or institutional abuse. The resulting personal injury lawsuits can cause a strain on the justice system. 

Mass tort and class action lawsuits can help to alleviate some of this strain and, in many cases, expedite the legal process for aggrieved victims.

While they share similarities, mass torts, and class actions are inherently different. It’s important to understand these differences, as well as when one type of legal action might be appropriate rather than the other.

What’s a Class Action?

A class action refers to litigation involving a class of individuals who have suffered similar injustices by a single defendant. Rather than filing individual lawsuits, the victims join a class and are represented by a single plaintiff. 

Generally, it starts with one plaintiff filing a lawsuit in state or federal court which outlines the ways in which the plaintiff and other victims have been injured, and why the defendant is to blame. 

Classes must be certified by the court

Once the complaint is filed, the plaintiff files to motion to have the class certified. A court must then determine if a class action is appropriate, and considers four different factors.

  • Are there so many members of the class that separate litigation is unrealistic and not practicable?
  • Do the class members share common questions of law or fact?
  • Are the representative plaintiff’s claims typical of the class as a whole?
  • Will the representative plaintiff adequately protect the interests of the entire class?

If the court determines that these are all true, then it will certify the class, and the class action will move forward.

Notice must be provided to potential class members

The plaintiff must provide notice to the members of the class and allow others to join or opt out of litigation. Joining the class action means giving up the right to pursue a separate civil action on your own.

Class members share in the end result – in victory and defeat

When a class action is resolved – either through a settlement or jury verdict – the members of the class share the result. If the class loses, no one recovers compensation. If the class wins, members share in the financial award (proportionately, based on the specific harms they’ve endured).

What’s a Mass Tort?

A mass tort refers to litigation involving multiple plaintiffs against a single defendant in state or federal court.

However, unlike a class action, all of the plaintiffs in a mass tort have their own personal cases. They have their own day in court and will receive their own personal settlement or court decision.

Mass torts are consolidated into multidistrict litigation

Typically, mass torts begin when several victims file individual, but highly related, lawsuits. This might happen in a localized geographic area or be spread out across the nation. 

When the lawsuits begin to add up, attorneys can file a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to consolidate the litigation into an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

The JPML considers three primary factors when determining if an MDL is appropriate.

  • Do the lawsuits involve common questions of fact?
  • Would an MDL be convenient for the parties?
  • Would an MDL promote judicial efficiency, economy, and fairness?

If the answers to these questions are “yes,” then the Panel will consolidate the cases into an MDL. 

Plaintiffs maintain individual cases but share resources

In an MDL, all plaintiffs maintain their individual lawyers and cases. However, evidence, discovery, resources, and information are shared. The cases are also heard and overseen by a single judge, which helps to ensure a consistent application of facts and law – and, in turn, results.

Bellwether cases set the tone in an MDL

While everyone has the right to their day in court, not everyone can (or should) go first. In an MDL, a few cases – usually those with the most compelling facts and evidence – are chosen to be tried first. These are known as bellwether cases. They ultimately set the stage for how the rest of the MDL will unfold.

The results of early bellwether trials do not have a direct impact on other cases in the MDL. However, they often have indirect results.

For instance, if a plaintiff wins the first bellwether and is awarded a sizable figure by the jury, it can be a huge boost for the other cases in the MDL. It might cause the defendant to engage in more meaningful settlement discussions or give other plaintiffs an edge in future litigation.

On the other hand, if the defendant wins the first bellwether, it can potentially hurt settlement negotiations and create more of an uphill battle for the remaining claimants.

Ultimately, this is why plaintiffs put their strongest cases up first. Early victories can accelerate settlement talks and help to expedite the process of getting much-needed compensation into their hands. 

How Bailey Glasser, LLP Can Help With Your Mass Tort or Class Action Lawsuit

Mass torts and class actions are typically appropriate in cases involving product liability, sexual abuse, pharmaceutical fraud, toxic exposure, human rights violations, and other widespread acts of negligence or intentionally harmful conduct.

If you’ve been the victim of a widespread act of harm, a class action or mass tort may be an appropriate vehicle for litigation. However, mass torts and class actions aren’t like other personal injury lawsuits. You’ll need to work with an attorney who has extensive experience (and success) handling these complex matters. 

At Bailey Glasser, LLP, we’ve been helping clients navigate mass tort and class action lawsuits since our founding in 1999. Our attorneys take a trial-focused approach to every case, which helps to put our clients in the position to achieve the best possible results time and time again. 

Contact our award-winning trial attorneys to learn about your legal rights, and how we might be able to help you with your mass tort or class action lawsuit. We have 19 law offices located across the country, so please reach out to a member of our team to get started today. Your first consultation is free.