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What’s a Mass Tort and How Does it Differ from a Class Action Lawsuit?

Mass torts occur when numerous people who may not have been aware of each other’s injuries band together to file a single lawsuit and seek damages from the same party. This type of lawsuit typically involves dangerous products or large-scale negligence or malfeasance on the part of an employer or organization that injures numerous people over time. Now, a class-action lawsuit can only be filed by one person on behalf of many people with similar injuries. That means all plaintiffs must join the class action lawsuit. Find out the difference between mass torts and class actions below.

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What Are Mass Torts?

The first thing to know about mass torts is that they’re not all class-action lawsuits. A mass tort is any kind of civil action involving more than one person who has suffered injuries or illnesses as a result of an event or series of events.

In legal terms, mass tort usually refers to claims by multiple plaintiffs against one party. In a mass tort, each plaintiff makes similar arguments and seeks comparable damages based on similar injuries. Those types of cases are often settled through negotiations between parties before they get to court.

what are mass torts?

For example, in asbestos litigation, thousands of people have filed individual lawsuits against companies that manufactured products containing asbestos. Since those cases involve many plaintiffs with overlapping claims, most have been consolidated into a multi-district litigation (MDL) in federal courts.

MDLs can be overseen by one judge overseeing dozens of related trials at once or overseen by several judges handling smaller clusters of related trials. That being said, MDLs can include mass torts such as those alleging injury caused by pharmaceutical drugs or medical devices. For example, one mass tort surrounds the 3M earplug lawsuit.

The Main Differences Between Class Actions and Mass Torts

mass torts vs class action lawsuits

Here are some of the biggest differences between class actions and mass torts:

  • In class actions, you can only pursue claims on behalf of other people who have had similar experiences to you. There’s no way to seek damages for your own losses. That means you’re looking at compensation only for those things that are commonly shared by everyone in your group. In mass tort cases, however, you can get compensation based on your own losses.
  • A lot of times when we talk about class action lawsuits, we’re actually talking about multi-district litigation (MDL). This is essentially an umbrella term that encompasses class actions. Additionally, it includes any other kind of case where different groups with similar claims against a defendant need to be grouped together for procedural purposes.

Mass Tort Example: Paraquat

In the U.S., one of the best-known examples of a mass tort involves exposure to the chemical herbicide paraquat. Paraquat has been allegedly linked to various forms of cancer. In recent years, developments in regards to the EPA and Paraquat have led to increased attention to this dangerous and deadly herbicide. Consequently, this has led to an increase in the number of claims being filed with regard to Paraquat’s association with Parkinson’s Disease or the alleged harmful effects.

Currently, there are a number of lawsuits alleging damages caused by Paraquat exposure. The lawsuits allege various instances of negligence and other reasons.

Types of Cases That Qualify as Class Actions vs. Cases That Qualify as Mass Torts

In order to qualify as a class action, your case must meet certain conditions set by law. If your case doesn’t meet those conditions, then you probably have a mass tort case on your hands. The difference between these types of cases comes down to their purpose. Class action lawsuits allow groups of individuals to pool their resources in order to file a single lawsuit against one defendant. These cases are often used when individual plaintiffs don’t have enough money or time to afford litigation on their own, but still want justice for themselves.

Mass Tort Cases

A mass tort, on the other hand, is filed by multiple people who were all injured in a similar way. Because each plaintiff is filing individually, there isn’t any need for them to join forces with others. In other words, their injuries are all similar enough that each plaintiff can be represented independently.

While both types of cases involve multiple plaintiffs and defendants (or parties), they differ significantly in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish. A class-action lawsuit is designed primarily to get compensation for its individual members. If successful, it can award damages that cover some or all losses suffered by its members.

The Bottom Line

While both mass tort cases and class action lawsuits can be filed on behalf of many people who suffered harm or financial loss… they are not quite identical. Mass torts can include any civil action brought against multiple defendants arising out of an injury to numerous plaintiffs. Consequently, one common issue is being presented in all claims. They may also involve alleged defects in drugs or medical devices that have caused problems for large numbers of patients over time. The majority of tort lawsuits fall into these categories.

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