Mass Torts 101: Class Action vs. Mass Tort

Mass torts and class action lawsuits have many similarities, but they differ in a few crucial ways. In both cases, a large group of plaintiffs has a similar grievance against a defendant, usually a company that they believe caused them injury or otherwise wronged them. Those plaintiffs then file lawsuits against the company and those lawsuits are consolidated into a single action, instead of treating them all as separate cases. This is done to make it possible for all the cases to be handled, since the court system would be overwhelmed if the thousands of plaintiffs often involved in these cases were handled individually.

The major difference between mass torts and class actions is how each person is treated in the lawsuit. In a mass tort, although the cases are grouped together and filed with the court at the same time, each plaintiff is evaluated separately for compensation when a settlement is reached. This means that the amount of the settlement money that a plaintiff receives is based on the extent of his or her injuries that were caused by the defendant. A person’s damages are based on what they personally went through: medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages are just some of the potential costs inflicted on victims.

In class action cases, the settlement amount is divided evenly between the entire group of plaintiffs, or class. Everyone in a class action receives the same compensation, regardless of their individual circumstances. Class actions often take less time and have a lower burden of proof than mass torts, but mass torts often can bring higher average compensation to the plaintiffs.

Class actions also have specific criteria that must be met in order to be considered a class action lawsuit. There are four major criteria, established by the Class Action Fairness Act and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that must be met:

  • The class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable
  • There are questions of law or fact common to the class
  • The claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class
  • The representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class

Beyond these criteria, everybody in the class must be notified of the suit and given the choice to either opt out or find their own counsel. And a motion must be filed in court for a representative to act as a plaintiff on behalf of the entire class before a class action lawsuit can be established.

Mass torts are used when one of the criteria of a class action are not met. Most mass tort cases are filed when the plaintiffs have been injured on a large scale by defective drugs or products. Because the reactions and health issues caused by these products can vary widely between individuals, these claims fail the third criteria listed above, and therefore cannot fit into a single class. At Onder Law, we handle both mass torts and class actions, but because most of our litigations involve defective products and pharmaceuticals, most of our clients are mass tort clients. If you are a client that signed up with our firm after being injured by a medical device, medication, or defective product, you can assume that you are part of a mass tort group. If this is not the case, this would have been made to clear to you from the time you signed up.

Thank you for checking out the first installment in Mass Torts 101! Stay tuned for future articles about other common litigation concepts/FAQs!