Class Actions vs. Mass Torts: What's the Difference?

Every so often, when a group of plaintiffs suffers some sort of physical and/or financial harm due to corporate negligence, they may file a class action or mass tort lawsuit to protect their rights. While you may have already heard of class action lawsuits, you may be less familiar with mass tort claims. These types of claims, although worded differently, provide a similar form for judicial relief.

For example, both types of procedural actions involve:

  • A large group of plaintiffs that have been allegedly harmed
  • Common defendants alleged to have caused that harm
  • A lawsuit consolidated into one action rather than individual lawsuits

Moreover, the key difference between mass torts and class actions has to do with how, procedurally, the large group of plaintiffs is treated.

Class Action Lawsuits

When a group of individuals is involved in a situation that results in injury or other damages, a class action lawsuit can be filed. Class action claims help reduce how many individual cases will be filed when more than one person has been harmed. For example, if a business is accused of overcharging customers for a product or service, a class action lawsuit will allow the courts to decide on all claims filed through a single claim. Class action claims often bring about corporate change.

The following steps must be taken for a class action lawsuit to proceed:

  • Every person in the “class” must be notified and be given the opportunity to find their own representation rather than participate in the class action
  • A motion must be filed for the plaintiff to act on behalf of a group
  • The plaintiff’s experience with the company or product must be representative of the other individuals involved in the lawsuit
  • The plaintiff must explain why this type of lawsuit is ideal for holding defendants accountable
  • The plaintiff must show that individual lawsuits would not be as cost-effective or beneficial for the other individuals involved

Furthermore, the compensation received by each individual involved must not be worth the time and costs of hiring an attorney for an individual case.

Mass Tort Lawsuits

Mass torts are brought against one, or a few, corporate defendants. These lawsuits represent a large group of people who’ve been injured on a large scale; this includes mass disaster torts such as mass toxic tort claims and product liability torts. Individual claims involving the same product or defect that are not allowed to proceed as a class action are referred to as mass tort claims. These are individual claims bundled together for pre-trial proceedings in order to save time and money. This is either done in state court by consolidating the cases, or in federal court through Multidistrict Litigation (MDL). At the end of the pre-trial proceedings, the individual claims are sent back to the jurisdictions in which they were filed for trial.

Similar to class action lawsuits, mass torts can be used to reduce the number of court cases brought by the individuals affected. Individual victims are represented by an attorney or group of attorneys. Typically, the attorney will use their investigation findings for all cases filed. The resources, findings, and ideals of a nationwide network of attorneys is used to certify that claimants receive fair settlements.

Because of their structure, mass torts tend to be more complicated than class action lawsuits. Some examples of mass torts include lawsuits against manufacturers of defective drugs and manufacturers of defective products. It is of the utmost importance that you recognize the difference between a class action and mass tort claim.

Contact an attorney at our firm to learn more about what legal rights you have at this time.


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