Mass tort cases typically stem from a defective prescription drug, and other types of defective drugs, as well as product liability scenarios in which a defective product on the market harms a large number of people. Some of these cases are well-publicized while many other mass tort cases never make headlines, but regardless of media coverage mass tort actions are always closely connected to widespread legal issues that cause just as much pain to the group of plaintiffs whose lives are affected.
Similar to class action lawsuits, mass tort claims involve a large group of people as plaintiffs and one or a few somewhat common defendants. However, class action suits 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 prescription drugs and medical devices.
As a law firm with proven results in mass tort litigation, Wagstaff & Cartmell has received many questions about the stages of mass tort litigation, as well as questions about how long these types of cases usually take before settlement. In this brief overview of mass tort litigation, we hope to answer some common questions we have received in the past.
And as always feel free to reach out to our team for real-time assistance by scheduling a free consultation so we can help you more thoroughly understand the United States’ federal rules and how your specific circumstances may apply to civil action.
What is the Process for a Mass Tort Claim?
These are a few basic steps to a mass tort claim:
- Review records – We examine statements from claimants and their medical records to identify the medical device or prescription drug, as well as the injuries that occurred as a result of use. This is an important first step in the discovery process for a plaintiffs’ lawyers to pursue vigilantly, as it allows us to identify injury consistencies and other factors which will aid in the mass tort litigation phase.
- Injury consistency – We check for the similarity of injuries among those harmed by drugs or devices as evidence for the mass tort 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, which is sometimes referred to as multidistrict litigation.
- 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 within the entirety of mass tort cases.
- Settlement – This occurs when the group of plaintiffs and common defendants 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, but utilizing an experienced personal injury lawyer can make all the difference within the overall amount of compensation a plaintiff can make individually within mass tort litigation.
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 for a free case evaluation if you believe you have a claim.