Mass Tort vs. Class Action: What’s the Difference?

Most people have heard about a class-action lawsuit. But do you know what mass tort litigation is, or how it differs from a class action? Some of our clients assume that both types of lawsuits are the same. However, this isn’t the case. These forms of litigation have some things in common such as a large number of people suing the same defendant(s) for causing them harm. However, there are some key differences and you should contact a class action and mass tort lawyer to find out how your matter would be best handled.

What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?

Class action lawsuits are typically filed in response to injuries caused by product defects, dangerous drugs, civil rights violations, securities fraud, and employment disputes. A class action lawsuit allows one or more individuals to file a case on behalf of a “class” or a large group of people who have similar claims for injuries and other damages.

This type of lawsuit is designed to reduce the number of cases that are filed when hundreds or thousands of people suffer harm because of the same issue. If each individual were to file a separate case, the number of lawsuits would quickly overwhelm the court system.

Class action lawsuits also make it more affordable for individuals to seek compensation in the courts. Since the costs are spread over a large number of people, taking legal action is less expensive than it otherwise would be. In addition, people whose losses are not large enough to warrant an individual lawsuit still have recourse.

Criteria for Class Actions

If an individual wants to bring a class action lawsuit, they must meet the criteria set out in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. There are several things which the district court must consider including:

  • Whether the individuals in the class are so numerous that it would be impractical for each person to file their own lawsuit
  • Whether the lead plaintiff can present questions of law or fact that are common among members of the class
  • Whether the claims or defenses of the lead plaintiff are typical of other members of the class
  • Whether the lead plaintiff can adequately represent and protect the interests of the other individuals

What Is a Mass Tort Litigation?

Mass tort cases often arise when a large number of customers are injured because of defective drugs or products. Medications can have a wide range of side effects so while hundreds or thousands of people may suffer injuries, they may not all have the same issues. Some cases may be mild while others could be severe. Similarly, if a car has faulty brakes, victims will likely suffer diverse injuries. One person may suffer a broken leg while another may be left permanently disabled.

In a mass tort, each victim needs to file their own lawsuit. If a large number of similar lawsuits are filed, they are consolidated into one court, at least during the discovery phase. Therefore, the information that one attorney gathers in one case can be shared with the other individual cases.

How the Two Types of Cases Differ

The main difference between a class action and a mass tort is in how the groups of plaintiffs are treated. In many cases, attorneys go in the direction of mass tort litigation if a case doesn’t meet the criteria for a class-action lawsuit.

In mass tort litigation, the plaintiff’s legal rights aren’t automatically protected because they belong to a particular group. Therefore, if damages are awarded, only people who filed an individual lawsuit will get compensation. This isn’t the case with class actions.

Also, while all the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit get basically the same amount in damages, those in a mass tort receive varying amounts based on their injuries. This makes mass tort cases more complex.

Another difference is that mass tort victims are usually individuals who have suffered serious injuries that result in significant medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. The financial losses are enough to justify the cost of an individual lawsuit.

Contact the Class Action Lawyers Coalition for Personalized Advice

The legal system is often complex and confusing. If you’ve suffered injuries that could be the fault of another entity, you should be compensated fairly. In some cases, this may mean filing an individual lawsuit. In others, it may mean starting or joining a class-action lawsuit. If you want to find out what’s the best course of action, schedule a consultation with one of our experienced class action attorneys. We represent clients nationwide.