A mass tort and a class action suit are two types of personal injury claims that involve large groups of plaintiffs who have substantially similar claims against the same defendant. But a mass tort and a class action suit are also quite different, both in terms of court procedure and in what cases are appropriate for each.
What Is a Mass Tort?
A tort generally refers to an act or omission by one party or parties that causes another to be harmed or injured, often because of negligence. A mass tort groups many individual lawsuits alleging harm or injury together, because each suit involves common questions of fact.
The individual plaintiffs, however, are treated separately. Plaintiffs in a mass tort make substantively the same allegations, such as claiming injury from the same defendant in the same way, but the severity of specific manifestations, for example, may be different among the plaintiffs.
Mass torts are often used when plaintiffs have brought lawsuits for damages against pharmaceutical or medical device companies for injuries or recalls.
Mass torts often proceed as a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Federal system. MDLs are established by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). The consolidation of cases that occurs in an MDL places all the cases before a single judge in one court. The intent is to bring more efficiency to the legal process and reduce a drain on court resources, including the time and effort of all parties.
In an MDL, for example, a witness provides testimony one time that is used for all the cases in the mass tort, rather than testimony for every single case. The discovery process and judge’s rulings proceed similarly. The creation of an MDL causes the process to be more streamlined than each case proceeding individually would be.
What Is a Class Action?
A class action lawsuit also represents a number of plaintiffs who were allegedly injured or wronged by the same defendant in the same way. The plaintiffs are termed the “class.” In a class action, one complaint is filed for the class, and a class representative stands for all members of the class. In court, then, all the individual plaintiffs are in effect treated as a single plaintiff.
It should be noted that, while mass torts and class action lawsuits are distinct, they are not mutually exclusive. Some plaintiffs may choose to pursue individual claims under a mass tort, while others may decide to join a class action lawsuit for a similar issue.
Examples of Mass Tort Cases
A mass tort often involves individuals injured by dangerous drugs and medical devices. Attorneys at Wagstaff & Cartmell are representing plaintiffs, for example, in cases alleging that the drugs Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa, Prozac, Paxil, Topamax and Depakote, when taken by women during pregnancy, cause their children to be born with a range of congenital birth defects.
Attorneys at Wagstaff & Cartmell are also representing plaintiffs in a mass tort medical device case involving DePuy hip implants. Plaintiffs allege that the implants, which are metal-on-metal, cause pieces of metal to fray in the body. The implants have caused patients receiving them to develop an array of serious symptoms, including difficulty walking and standing, tissue death, metalosis and pain.
Examples of Class Action Suits
A class action lawsuit can involve a variety of subject matters, including antitrust, securities, consumer and product liability actions.
Recently, for example, Wagstaff & Cartmell won a $10 million class action settlement in an environmental property damage case. The settlement was reached with an engineering company on behalf of a class consisting of landowners in Northwest Missouri. The class action alleged that a St. Joseph tannery, Prime Tanning, distributed tannery sludge containing hexavalent chromium produced from its tanning operations to landowners to use as fertilizer in four Missouri counties from 1983 through 2009.
Contact an Experienced Law Firm for Results
The experienced personal injury attorneys at Wagstaff & Cartmell conduct both mass tort and class action suits. In mass torts, our lawyers are often named to the plaintiffs’ leadership teams of the U.S.’s most extensive drug and medical device cases. Our leadership roles, including those in MDLs, stem from our past record of success, deep experience and an excellent reputation in mass tort and product liability law.
In class actions, Wagstaff & Cartmell attorneys have recovered over $600 million, both locally and nationally. We have been part of the leadership group prosecuting significant class actions across the U.S. and have also successfully defended class actions.
Mass Tort Claims FAQs
How Are Mass Tort Cases Different from Class Actions?
While both mass tort claims and class actions involve a large number of people who have suffered a similar type of harm, they are different in several important respects. In a mass tort action, each individual plaintiff has an individual claim with distinct damages, which may go to trial if the case is not settled. In contrast, in a class action, the claims are generally not considered individually, and any settlement or jury verdict is split among all members of the class.
What Are Common Types of Mass Tort Cases?
While there are a number of possible mass tort claims, they usually fall into one of three categories: (1) prescription drugs; (2) product liability (i.e., dangerous and defective products); and (3) toxic torts. A good example of toxic tort cases is asbestos litigation. Millions of Americans suffered lung injuries, including cancer, from exposure to asbestos; mass tort litigation helped them recover for their losses.
What Kinds of Damages Can I Get in a Mass Tort Case?
Under state and federal laws, individuals who have suffered a loss due a dangerous prescription drug, a faulty product, or exposure to a pollutant or chemical may be able to recover financial compensation. This may include money for current and future medical expenses, lost wages, disability and disfigurement, pain and suffering, and other types of emotional damages.
How Are Mass Tort Claims Resolved?
A mass tort case is resolved in one of two ways: (1) an organized/group settlement; or (2) individual settlements or trials. Group settlements are structured in a way that takes into account each individual’s claim, and each participant can make a decision about whether to participate in this settlement after hearing the proposed terms.
What Are the Advantages of a Mass Tort Claim?
If a large number of people have suffered a similar injury, a mass tort can be an effective and cost-efficient way to reach a favorable outcome. Everyone involved in the claim will benefit from using the evidence that was gathered during the mass tort process — but can take their individual case to trial or work out their own settlement. In this way, participants will get the advantage of pooling their resources while maintaining their ability to get a resolution that works for them with the help of a mass tort claim attorney.
Please contact Wagstaff & Cartmel to schedule a consultation or call (816) 701-1100 today to discuss a mass tort drug or medical device product liability case or class action issue. See here for a list of mass torts we are actively pursuing.