What Is the Difference Between a Class Action and Mass Tort?

A class action lawsuit is distinct from a mass tort suit, even though they may seem very similar on the surface. Yet, it’s not immediately apparent to a non-specialist what the difference between them is. The processes and outcomes of both of these types of lawsuits are different. Knowing the difference determines what you ask your lawyer about. Both of them focus on multiple people filing suits against a large company. This approach makes sense since there is a more significant chance of an outcome when multiple people file together. However, the exact details of the types of litigation you should file will differ depending on the circumstances.

The Class Action Lawsuit

class action lawsuit happens when a large number of people representing the interests of a large number of people file a claim against a single defendant. The individuals who file the suit share similar grievances against the defendant (usually a larger company or corporation) and seek to settle their differences through the law. They typically seek compensation as a group. Essentially, class action lawsuits are a means of controlling the amount of filing that needs to be done. When multiple people have the same problem against the same defendant, there would be a mass of paperwork dealing with the filing. Class action suits reduce paperwork and redundancy in the legal system.

The entities that show up as defendants in a class action lawsuit reflect the interests of a single group and are known as class representatives. That’s why the court defers to treating multiple class action lawsuit defendants as a single plaintiff. Each entity that shows up as a defendant will have the opportunity to seek legal counsel or opt out. The court usually passes a motion that accepts that these individuals or entities will be representatives for the class in question. The passing of this motion constitutes procedural actions that don’t actually impact the course of the case. This has no bearing on the questions of law associated with the outcome of the case.

Outcomes also apply to all individuals who have filed in the class action suit. However, settlements may also apply to people who haven’t directly filed against the plaintiffs. The aim, as mentioned before, is to reduce the number of overall claims filed. If other people have the same circumstances, the class action lawsuit covers their complaints. Unfortunately, since the number of individual defendants may be high, the total payout per defendant may be small. This low payout tends to be the norm, even if the lump sum of the settlement may run into millions of dollars.

The Mass Tort

Mass torts usually come up when a company’s products injure a massive amount of people. The 1980s saw an enormous rise in the number of these mass tort cases and set a precedent going into the present day. In a mass tort case, many plaintiffs suffering from the same negligence of a company decide to bring suit against them. The claim may be filed at either the federal level or state level. Among the most common types of mass tort that show up regularly in courtrooms are:

Mass torts tend to have a single attorney or group of attorneys representing the plaintiffs. 

Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)

There is a third type of lawsuit not mentioned above that may come up in discussion. The multidistrict litigation (MDL) claim happens when several plaintiffs file at the federal level to address a company’s negligence. These jurisdictions may be geographically distant, but the claims they present may be similar or the same. An MDL helps to streamline the legal process and link the plaintiffs together. The MDL may result in mass tort damages, but this isn’t always the case. The plaintiffs can seek individual compensation settlement from the defendants in a personal injury suit if it doesn’t.

The Key Difference Between Mass Torts and Class Action Suits

The most apparent difference between these two types of lawsuits is how the court treats the plaintiffs. For class action lawsuits to apply, the court must certify the class action. This allows the plaintiffs to become a class representative. Mass torts don’t have any sort of requirement for certifying the action – it’s simply a case of many people coming together to address the shortcoming of a large company. In addition, these lawsuits treat each individual plaintiff as a singly entity, despite there being an overall filing. Since in a class action lawsuit, all the members of a class are represented together, the case depends on the entire class proving their case.

How To Determine Whether a Suit is Class Action or Mass Tort

Lawyers will deliberate over whether a suit should be filed as a class action or a mass tort. As mentioned above, the class action suit has a few criteria that need to be met for the case to proceed. The class must be established and verified by the courts. If this criterion can’t be met, the suit will have to proceed as a mass tort. A good example is if the plaintiffs have too wide a variety of symptoms to be declared a class. In such a case, it may be impossible to have the court accept them as a class since they have clearly different reactions. For wrongdoing to be established, the plaintiffs may be required to answer questions in detail. If those answers vary significantly, it could be challenging to allow the plaintiffs to represent a class of individuals. Mass torts are the fallback position. They’re akin to combining several individual lawsuits into a single, massive one. They are usually applied to cases that involve pharmaceutical companies, medical devices, large-scale disasters, and consumer products that have led to significant personal injury.

Choosing a Representative

Whether it’s a defective product, or drug issue, you may need the services of a mass tort lawyer or a class action lawyer. The attorney will represent you in your mass tort claims, alongside others who may have the same grievance. A mass tort lawsuit for things like defective drugs is a common legal action.

If you need a lawyer to represent you in mass tort actions you should consider your options carefully. Not all mass tort actions are the same, but being involved in one prior offers experience. If you suffer from common issues as other individuals who have already filed a class action lawsuit, you may be inclined to join their legal action. In such a case, you can bring your suit along with others against the common defendant.

Examine your legal counsel’s experience in the field and ask about any previous mass tort or class action suits they may have been involved in previously. This will help you gauge whether your lawyer is up to the task of the legal procedures associated with these cases. They should be able to work with other legal representatives of the other plaintiffs involved in the case. A law firm that has dedicated staff to deal with a class-action suit or a mass tort settlement may be your best bet. Remember, settlements in class action suits may cover several people. The total amount of your settlement may be very small in the grand scheme of things. Discuss this with your lawyer before proceeding so that there are no surprises at the end of the journey. Call McDonald Worley for your free consultation.


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