What is a Mass Tort?
Tort claims have evolved through the years because society believes that you should not suffer the consequences of someone else’s negligence without being adequately compensated. As a result, mass torts are one of the most important forms of torts in today’s world. Imagine there’s a defective drug in circulation. Many people have used the drug. Each party involved likely suffers from the drug in different ways. While some people might suffer minor damage from the defective drug, others might sustain serious, costly, and life-changing complications. Mass torts enable these victims to combine their cases while appealing for the compensation that they personally need from the case.
There is a growing trend of mass tort actions in American Federal Courts. According to a report by ‘Lawyers for Civil Justice,’ the number of mass tort cases in consolidated multidistrict litigations (MDLs) has surpassed one million. Interestingly, after taking 39 years to total 250,000 cases and another 13 years to hit 750,000, the numbers jumped from 750,000 to 1 million in only one year, from 2020 to 2021. This article covers the basics of mass torts, from the definition to the benefits and the types and the process involved. Read on to learn more.
Mass torts – What is it?
An excellent place to start is to understand what a tort is. A tort is a civil (as opposed to a criminal) wrong committed by a person or company that results in some sort of harm to another. This harm could be physical injury, emotional distress, financial loss, or property damage. A mass tort is a single tort that results in injury to many victims. These victims can come together in a single mass tort lawsuit, seeking justice for their various injuries against the defendant(s).
Mass torts are often filed by individuals who have suffered a physical or financial injury because of the negligence or misconduct of an entity. The victims may have been affected in different manners and to varying degrees. However, the common thread in mass torts is that a single product or service is responsible for these negative outcomes. For instance, a company might produce a medical device or a defective product that causes physical injuries or economic harm to thousands of individuals. Other examples include explosions, commercial plane crashes, groundwater contamination due to toxic waste disposal, or noxious pollution emanating from industrial factories.
Mass torts vs. Class actions
You are probably wondering whether class actions and mass torts are the same. No, they are not. Mass torts and class actions are similar in that they both involve multiple individuals who a negligent party has harmed. However, they are distinct from one another in how the law treats the plaintiffs.
In a class action, participants are represented collectively. All claimants are part of a group that needs to prove wrongdoing. Those in the class all have the same injury or loss, and the court treats them as one plaintiff. For example, multiple people affected by a personal data breach may take part in a class-action lawsuit. On the flip side, in a mass tort, each group member has an individual claim. Thus, participants might suffer similar injuries, but the extent of the damages is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
For the reasons above, mass torts generally yield larger settlements and verdicts than class actions. As a result, recovery for the individual victims is often much higher in mass tort actions than in class action suits.
Benefits of Mass Torts
Mass tort litigation reduces the number of court cases in the system. In addition, it allows investigators to combine resources, information, and ideas to make sure settlement benefits a broader range of injured consumers. Filing a single individual tort claim against a big corporation can be expensive and time-consuming. If multiple individuals who have suffered similar injuries file suit together, they can pursue their claims in a more efficient, cost-effective manner.
Common Types of Mass Torts
A significant number of mass tort cases involve some form of negligence. The main categories are as follows.
- Product Liability Injuries
Dangerous and defective products are some of the most common subjects of mass tort claims. Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that their products are safe and provide adequate information to their consumers. If they fail to do so on a large scale, injured consumers can hold these entities responsible. Examples of product liability mass torts include contaminated food, defective electronic devices, malfunctioning car parts, or dangerous toys for kids.
- Defective Drugs And Medical Devices
Despite rigid testing and approval requirements, many drugs may cause unintended, dangerous side effects the manufacturer failed to warn consumers or physicians about. Medical devices may contain defects that affect their purpose and cause harm to the patient. These can lead to injuries such as heart attack, organ loss, allergic reactions, permanent disability, chronic pain, tissue or bone damage, infections, and stroke. The manufacturers can be held responsible through mass tort actions.
- Environmental torts
Actions that damage the environment have far-reaching consequences. From negligent fire outbreaks to oil leaks that contaminate seawater, destroying fishing and beach tourism. Or pollution exposing nearby residents to toxic chemicals, environmental torts can create injuries as diverse as their causes.
How Mass Torts Work
Although the circumstances of your specific case may vary, most mass tort cases follow a similar process. Mass torts typically follow a legal proceeding known as multi-district litigation (MDL). MDL occurs after multiple lawsuits are filed in federal court by individuals who have sustained similar injuries or harm by an entity’s conduct. These lawsuits are combined and brought before a single federal judge.
From here, the judge appoints a group of attorneys to be the plaintiffs’ steering committee (PSC). Next, the PSC will pursue discovery on behalf of all individuals involved. Then, the PSC gathers evidence and presents its case. Often, the law firms handling the MDL will be able to work out a potential mass tort settlement for all individuals who were injured or damaged by the company, especially after a few bellwether jury trials to help both sides determine the reasonable value of the cases. Suppose the law firms participating in the MDL cannot work out a settlement as part of the MDL. In that case, the case will proceed to trial, where the court will determine the value of each lawsuit.
How Long Does a Mass Tort Action Take?
Mass tort claims are often more complex than individual product liability lawsuits. As a result, several factors could lengthen the time it takes to conclude the process. First, several processes might take a fair amount of time and effort, from finding expert witnesses and scheduling deposition testimony to investigations and collecting multiple pieces of evidence.
Also, a case that settles before trial will take a shorter amount of time to complete than one that proceeds to the courtroom. The sad fact is that not all parties enter fair settlements during negotiation. If your case does proceed to trial, it is important to pursue the claim to the fullest extent so that you can receive the compensation you deserve.
If you suffer an injury from another person’s wrongdoing or a defective product, you deserve compensation for your injuries. By entering the mass tort process with an attorney on your side, you can protect yourself and your future, fighting for maximum possible compensation every step of the way. When choosing an attorney for your mass tort claim, it is essential to make sure you hire one that will work in your best interest.