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What are the Differences Between Mass Torts and Class Action Lawsuits?

Jan 23, 2017

What is a Class Action Lawsuit?

What is the Difference Between Mass Torts and Class Action?

Class actions lawsuits are cases in which a group of individuals who are alleging similar injuries or damages caused by the same product or action sue a defendant, or defendants, as a group. In a class action, every individual's claim is essentially the same and all claims proceed as a group claim against the defendant(s).

Other names for lawsuits brought by numerous people alleging similar losses or harm include "mass tort litigation" and "multidistrict litigation" (MDL); however, all three types of group lawsuits involve slightly different legal actions and processes.

In a class action lawsuit every claim is basically the same, and claims go through the legal system as a group as one case against the individual who, or company that, has harmed them. Claimants may be seeking to find justice, but find that a lawsuit is not the most practical method or losses exist but are limited. For example, a case involving company misconduct may lead to limited losses and pursuing legal action would not be a meaningful investment. If other people, however, have had the same negative experience with the same company or individual and specific procedural guidelines are met, these individuals-sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands-may form a class of plaintiffs against the firm or individual in a class action lawsuit.

Class actions are commonly brought for a variety of reasons that may impact a large number of individuals such as employee-related claims, including discrimination and wage/hour law disputes; unfair or fraudulent business practices associated to services; or defective or dangerous product, including consumer products and vehicles, for example.

To be involved in a class action lawsuits a number of certification requirements must be met and the court must be certify the class. Federal or state law may govern how a class action may be handled, depending on subject matter. Also federal procedure differs slightly from various states' rules; however, many states follow what has been set out in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), essentially:

  • There must be sufficient potential claimants to make joining the claimants as named plaintiffs in one, traditional lawsuit impracticable.
  • There must be common questions of law or fact across all claims so that all of the claims are based on the same alleged error or wrongdoing.
  • The claims alleged by the named plaintiffs-also known as class representatives-must be the same as others in the class; any arguments that may be raised by the defendant would be the same or similar.
  • The class representatives will provide fair and adequate protection for the class. This is the point in which the lawyers representing the class will be scrutinized, especially concerning fee agreements.

Once a class action lawsuit has been certified, all of the potential class members are notified of the class action lawsuit, including their right to opt out of the class. Plaintiffs may choose to opt out of the class, which means that they will no longer be part of the class action and will not receive any of any agreed-upon settlement and will not be tied to any resolution of the class action, including if the case was dismissed. The plaintiff is still able to file his/her own lawsuit against the defendant.

Should settlement of the class action lawsuit be discussed, the court must approve any agreed-upon settlement by the class representatives, class counsel, and the defendant. Class members must be notified that a settlement has been reached via compliant notice that must contain information that a settlement has been reached, the settlement details, and the class members' right to object to the proposed settlement.

Parker Waichman has decades of experience handling class action lawsuits, mass tort litigations, and individual lawsuits. Our experienced attorneys will help you determine the best way in which to handle your potential case.

What is Mass Tort

What is Mass Tort

While a class action is a type of legal action in which a lawsuit is filed on behalf of a group of people who share a set of allegations involving losses, damages, and injuries and is meant to reduce the number of court cases involving many people allegedly harmed by the same problem, mass tort lawsuits differ. Allegations typically involve drug recalls or alleged defects, medical device recalls or alleged defects, and significant catastrophes.

Mass tort lawsuits are civil actions that also attempt to reduce the number of cases in the court system. A mass tort lawsuit may be comprised of thousands or tens of thousands of individual claims. Mass torts are handled differently and cover a wider array of claim types. In fact, a class action lawsuit is a type of a mass tort claim. Typically those involved in a mass tort case are injured; however, the nature of their alleged injuries and the alleged severity of those injuries generally do vary. While the claims differ, all of the claims involve the same product and, typically, the same circumstances.

Mass tort claims are typically brought when consumers are injured on a large scale by defective drugs or defective products, which may lead to a broad array of issues for various individuals. Because of this, all of the cases do not often fit into a single class. In a mass tort litigation, one attorney, or a group of attorneys, represent a number of injured plaintiffs in individual cases; however, the investigation that is conducted by one attorney may be shared among all of the cases. Also, a nationwide lawyer network may pool resources, information, and ideas to help ensure that all of the involved individuals receive fair settlements for their injuries.

Mass tort lawsuits are also generally more complex than class action lawsuits given the way in which they are structured in a more intricate way than class action lawsuits because mass torts do not typically follow standard and predictable legal procedure. Also, given the sheer number of claims brought during the mass tort, settlement and compensation are often difficult to define.

Specifically, mass torts are treated in the federal justice system and cases are organized together in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in front of one federal judge multicounty litigation in front of one state judge, which enables various cases to be filed in federal and state courts nationwide and litigated in front of one federal or state judge. MDLs offer a more efficient process, conserve plaintiff and defendant legal resources, and enable the litigation to proceed more rapidly than if the lawsuits were handled separately. For example, testimony offered once is applicable to all involved cases, as is the obtaining of discovery and judicial rulings.

Questions About Filing A Class Action Lawsuit?

If you or someone you know is interested in filing a class action lawsuit, contact one of our personal injury attorneys today. Parker Waichman offers free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).


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