Mass tort cases stem from a defective drug or device on the market that harms a large number of people. Some of these cases are well-publicized, while many others never make headlines, but cause just as much pain to the people whose lives are affected.
Similar to class action lawsuits, they involve numerous plaintiffs and one or a few defendants. Class actions, however, do not always involve injury claims and cover only one complaint with common characteristics, such as consumers who sue an automaker for producing faulty auto parts. The plaintiffs are grouped together into one “class.”
Mass tort claims, on the other hand, can include different complaints against the same defendant(s), and often involve injuries from dangerous drugs and medical products.
As a firm with proven results in mass tort litigation, Wagstaff & Cartmell has received many questions about the stages of a mass tort, as well as questions about how long these types of cases usually take before settlement. In this brief overview of mass tort, we hope to answer some common questions we have received in the past.
What is the Process for a Mass Tort Claim?
These are a few basic steps to a mass tort:
- Review records – We examine statements from claimants and their medical records to identify the device or drug and the injuries that occurred as a result of use. This is an important first step in the discovery process, as it allows us to identify injury consistencies and other factors which will aid in the litigation phase.
- Injury consistency – We check for the similarity of injuries among those harmed by drugs or devices as evidence for the claim, and categorize cases to understand any shared characteristics between them. This allows us to identify what exactly our clients are seeking compensation for.
- Federal court filing – Individual cases are consolidated to speed up processing and information gathering.
- Bellwether trials – A small group of lawsuits, chosen from a larger group of similar cases, are tried first. This functions as a sort of litmus test for future judges and juries, as the results can determine the potential outcomes of future cases.
- Settlement – This occurs when both parties enter negotiations to settle the claims, and any proposed agreements are presented to claimants to decide whether they will accept them or proceed to a trial.
Because mass tort claims can involve multiple plaintiffs, they can take longer than typical personal injury cases. Mass torts are a powerful legal tool for claimants who are able to pool resources when fighting a common defendant.
How Long Does a Mass Tort Claim Take?
Unlike an individual personal injury claim, which speeds through the court system in a matter of weeks or months, mass torts—given their vast numbers of plaintiffs—are much more complex. It takes a substantial amount of time to investigate and gather evidence that will prove each claimant’s injuries, possibly amounting to years of time invested into a single mass tort.
Moreover, mass torts have other unique processes that take time and money. There are numerous case management and status conferences, the sharing of documents between parties, motions, and the selection of bellwether trial cases. Some of the factors that may impact the timeline for a mass tort claim include:
- Locating and deposing expert witnesses (lawyers may seek multiple expert witnesses, such as physicians, scientists, economists, marketers, drug company researchers/developers and more depending on the case)
- The need for travel (such as when required to locate and depose witnesses, or conduct other case investigations)
- Investigation and collection of evidence (a mass tort claim requires substantial evidence, such as medical records, company documentation and more, which can take months to locate, collect, organize and analyze)
There are statutes of limitations in medical device and dangerous drug cases, so it’s important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible if you believe you have a claim.