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Mass Tort vs Class Action Lawsuits

Mass Tort vs Class Action Lawsuits

You have probably heard the term “class action lawsuit” in the news or in advertisements, but you may not be familiar with mass torts, which is a term often mistakenly used interchangeably with “class action lawsuits”. Both pertain to situations where a group of individuals share a common grievance against one or more defendants. Understanding the difference between mass tort vs class action cases is important because, though they have similarities, there are also a number of important differences. 

In general, the term “tort” refers to an injury claim. From that, you have probably derived that mass tort claims involve a lot of injuries at the same time, which is true. Mass tort actions are lawsuits that have been compiled simultaneously against a defendant or group of defendants. 

Class action lawsuits also have multiple personal injury victims pooled together in a lawsuit against the same defendant. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between a class action vs mass tort lawsuit so you can make an informed decision on how to move forward with your case. 

What Is a Mass Tort?

Mass tort often involves a large number of plaintiffs from the same geographical area which makes it easier to establish jurisdiction, though it is possible to file these claims in state or federal court, depending on the circumstances. These claims arise from an act of negligence or misconduct involving one or more defendants. Plaintiffs in the case are eligible to seek compensation for similar injuries suffered from the defendant’s behavior. Defendants in mass tort cases are often corporations, though they can be brought against individuals or other corporate entities. 

Process for Mass Tort Litigation

Individual cases are combined to form mass tort actions to streamline the litigation process and preserve the resources of the judicial system. A judge may choose to combine these similar cases into a single mass tort lawsuit. As long as the claims share a common act of harm by the same defendant, the courts can even combine lawsuits spread out among different jurisdictions. 

The plaintiffs retain their individual rights to choose their attorney and recover damages for their needs, but the attorney must work within the requirements set forth for entering a multiple-plaintiff cause of action. If a mass tort case settles before trial but one of the plaintiffs does not like the settlement terms, they retain the right to reject it and pursue a separate action, regardless of what the other plaintiffs decide to do. 

What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?

Instead of each plaintiff remaining independent in their lawsuit, most of the class members will have no direct role in controlling the legal strategy of the case. Instead, class actions are led by a small group of class representatives. There are certain notifications required to keep the members of the class informed about important progress and options to opt-out to pursue litigation with their own attorney. If the case is successful, funds are divided among the class members. Generally, the class representatives have sustained the most damage and been the most involved in the case, therefore they may receive a larger fund allotment than other plaintiffs in the case. Common class action lawsuits include dangerous products or medications that impact a large number of people. 

What Are the Requirements for a Class Action Lawsuit?

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure outlines the requirements that must be met to have a valid class action case. Each state also has its own regulations that apply when the case is filed within that jurisdiction. In general, the federal prerequisite for a class action lawsuit include:

  • There are so many plaintiffs that it is impracticable to join all of the parties in a lawsuit;
  • The questions of law or fact to be decided are the same for all members of the class;
  • The claims or defenses of the representative class members are typical for the rest of the class;
  • Representative class members will fairly and adequately represent the interests of each member of the class. 

The class action must be certified by the court using these prerequisites before the lawsuit can proceed. Once it has been certified, each class member is sent a notice to let them know they have been added to the suit. Plaintiffs can total hundreds, thousands or more in some cases. 

Difference Between Mass Tort and Class Action 

The primary difference between a mass tort vs class action is the level of control the plaintiffs have in the case. When compared to class action lawsuits, mass torts generally have more in common with standard personal injury cases. Most plaintiffs in a class action case will not be actively involved in the legal process. 

Case Structure

Plaintiffs in mass tort cases filed individual actions against a common defendant. Class actions file a single lawsuit against the defendant under one or more representative plaintiffs. 

Number of Plaintiffs

Mass tort lawsuits usually have fewer plaintiffs than class action lawsuits. When there are too many plaintiffs, mass tort lawsuits become too difficult given the individual nature of each claim. In this situation, a class action may be initiated to manage the large number of plaintiffs.

Procedural Differences

Mass tort lawsuits are composed of individual actions in which each plaintiff presents their case and requests for damages. A class action lawsuit is a legal action requiring only one single case to be presented and proven as representation for all plaintiffs. 

Individual vs. Group Judgment

In mass tort litigation, judgments apply separately to each plaintiff. However,  judgments passed in a class action apply equally to all class members. 

Understanding Mass Tort vs Class Action

If you and others sustained injuries because of someone else’s negligent behavior, you may be eligible to file your claim as part of a mass tort lawsuit or class action. The experienced lawyers at D’Amore Law Group can help you understand your options and the best course of action to pursue the meaningful compensation you deserve. We have over 30 years and 2,000 cases of experience in the Pacific Northwest. Contact us to schedule your free case consultation.

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