What’s the Difference between Mass Tort and Class Action?

Most people are exposed to class action lawsuits when they receive notification of legal action regarding a consumer product. They’re given the option to participate in a class action suit, along with legally committing to not pursue any further legal action against the company regarding the product in question.

Another type of lawsuit that’s similar to a class action is the mass tort. Mass torts are not the same as class action suits, but they do share a few similarities, including:

  • Numerous people were harmed physically or financially and are taking legal action
  • Legal action is against the same common defendant(s)
  • Individual legal action is consolidated into a single lawsuit

The primary difference between the two?

Mass torts and class actions deal with plaintiffs differently.

Mass torts occur when a distinct group of people is injured, oftentimes in the same geographic area. Each of these plaintiffs is treated as an individual, so each must prove the fact of his or her claim and show how he or she was injured because of the actions of the defendant(s).

In a class action, the group of plaintiffs are not treated on an individual basis.

Instead, the class as a whole must prove its case. The class is treated as a single plaintiff with a single legal representative (this can be an individual or team or attorneys).

How is It Determined If a Lawsuit Will Proceed as a Class Action or Mass Tort?

In many cases, the reason a lawsuit proceeds as a mass tort is because the legal criteria needed to establish a class action have not been met.

For instance, if the plaintiffs have too wide a variety of circumstances it can be difficult to act as a class. In order to establish wrongdoing, the questions that will need to be answered will vary a great deal from person to person.

There are certain types of cases that are most often classified as mass torts, including those related to pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices, consumer products, and large scale catastrophes.

Events that Injure Large Groups of People Often Result in Mass Torts

Let’s use a large scale catastrophe as an example of why a case might be a mass tort. A fire occurs at a manufacturing plant a few miles from a town. People suffer burns, their homes and personal property are damaged, and over several days, many are exposed to hazardous chemicals burning in the air.

It’s easy to see why the various people affected would have different injuries and experiences. The advantage of filing the lawsuit as a mass tort would be the pre-trial proceedings, including that the gathering of information and evidence can be consolidated into a single process. However, once that’s done, cases are handled individually so each person can address his or her injuries and the other effects of the event.

Class Actions are Treated as a Group from Beginning to End

In a class action, on the other hand, everyone is treated as a single group, even after the pre-trial proceedings are complete. Some of the most common examples of class action lawsuits include false advertising of a consumer product, inflated pricing, and employee discrimination.

It can be challenging to file a class action if plaintiffs have suffered physical injuries because there are so many different factors regarding the health of everyone who would be in the class.

Determining whether it’s better to proceed with class action or mass tort litigation can be complex because so many factors must be taken into account. The primary issue is whether the plaintiffs involved claim to have suffered fairly consistent damages.

If you have questions about the difference between mass tort and class action, or you’re wondering if you’re eligible to participate in either because you suffered damages related to a product or an event, contact 866.795.9529 to discuss your case.

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National Mass Tort Attorneys
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