The Difference Between Mass Tort and Class Action Lawsuits

Taking on a corporation to receive compensation for an injury is as intimidating as it gets. Pharmaceutical and consumer product companies seem to have an endless supply of resources to suppress and dismiss individual cases.

So, what are people supposed to do if they’ve legitimately suffered harm?

Class actions and mass torts are common procedural actions used to implement corporate change or discipline on behalf of large groups of victims. In theory, these actions help expedite court cases and ensure individual victims receive fair representation.

While class action and mass tort are often used interchangeably, they are not the same type of procedural action, and they serve very different functions for individual victims.

Class Action Lawsuits Explained

Class action suits are a type of mass tort claim with specific characteristics and criteria.

First, class actions represent multiple victims, called a class, and are represented by a “class representative” who files the lawsuit on behalf of the class.

Class action suits must be certified as such to proceed; for example, class actions must prove the procedural action is most effective at handling multiple cases and plaintiffs. More specifically, injuries and damages should be similar and narrow in scope, and all must originate from a shared (often single) source.

Class action suits are typical in cases involving false or misleading labels, employee discrimination, or overcharging customers.

Victims are given a choice to opt-in or out of a class action lawsuit; they can also secure private counsel if they wish.

This type of procedural action is helpful at solving a single problem for multiple people who suffered similar injuries or damages and who would otherwise not have the means or resources to take on a large corporation.

Mass Torts Explained

Mass torts, while also intended to unclutter our court system, are distinct from class actions in several ways.

First, mass torts do not require certification, and they do not follow standard, predictable legal procedures.

Generally speaking, mass torts are more complex than class action lawsuits. For example, unlike a class action suit that represents multiple victims simultaneously, mass torts represent individual victims on a case-by-case basis and are judged based on individual merit.

Mass torts are structured this way because they are regularly brought on by consumers that used a pharmaceutical drug or consumer product that inflicted unique, adverse effects, which often manifest differently for different people.

In other words, a product or drug defect can impact individuals differently based on his or her interaction with it, length of exposure, and individual health factors.

Moreover, the scope of injury or damage incurred by victims in a mass tort varies widely and does not fit neatly into a box the way class actions require.

Mass torts represent a wide range of problems for individual victims. Subsequently, victims file suits individually.

One or more attorneys can represent victims in different cases; however, mass tort attorneys prepare for these cases by pooling resources and sharing information relating to injuries and damages from the alleged source.

For example, expert witness testimony or research can be used as evidence in multiple cases spreading the cost of the resources among several parties. In this way, mass torts give victims a way to seek damages when they may otherwise not be able to afford to do so.

Mass tort cases often involve defective drugs or products. Today, active mass torts include vaginal mesh implants and talcum powder, two products manufactured by Johnson & Johnson.

Statute of Limitation: Why It Matters

Mass torts and class actions are mostly similar from state to state. However, there are some important distinctions that victims should be aware of pertaining to where they live.

Mass torts generally end in settlements, but settlements can be difficult to finalize until there is some certainty regarding the number of claims and victims involved.

Eligibility to file a claim is partially determined by a state’s statute of limitations—or the amount of time an injured party has to file a claim against a defendant.

A statute of limitations also establishes compensation limits for specific types of damages including medical malpractice, wrongful death, personal injury, and so on. A victim can’t file a claim past the determined time limitations.

For example, personal injury claims in Louisiana must be filed within one year of the date of injury; but next door in Mississippi, plaintiffs have three years to file.

The type of injury or damage will inform time limitations respectively in each state. Know your state’s statute of limitations to ensure your claim is filled in time.

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