What Is a Mass Tort?

A mass tort is a civil action that is filed in state or federal court. Due to the large number of injuries that usually occur from a single action, mass tort lawsuits provide large groups of victims with legal recourse to sue the plaintiff with a mass tort lawyer and recover compensation for damages. 

As defined by law, the term “tort” is a wrongful act that causes injuries to another person, while a “mass tort” is a wrongful act that causes injuries to many people. Typically, mass torts are wrongful actions committed by large companies and corporations that harm large groups of people instead of one or several individuals. Mass tort cases enable a group of plaintiffs to file a claim or lawsuit against one or more liable parties to recover compensation for damages resulting from their negligence. 

Individuals and attorneys may file mass torts when multiple plaintiffs have sustained damages because of one party’s negligence. Defendants in these cases could include individuals or entities responsible for causing harm to groups of individuals through a single incident. 

Why Are Mass Torts Filed?

When one or more negligent parties cause harm to multiple plaintiffs, the plaintiffs involved may choose to file a mass tort or class action lawsuit. Many people perceive these cases as the same, but they are different in the way they treat plaintiffs. While class action suits lump all plaintiffs together in the same qualified “class,” mass torts consider each plaintiff as an individual.

What Are the Most Common Types of Mass Torts?

There are several types of mass torts that plaintiffs may file, depending on the circumstances of their case. Some of the most common mass tort case types include:

Injuries From Prescription Drugs

Pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals may be liable in mass torts if injuries result from the use of prescription drugs. For example, pharmaceutical companies may fail to disclose side effects or properly test drugs before giving the public access to them, making them liable for subsequent harm. Meanwhile, a doctor could be liable if he or she prescribes the wrong medication or dose to multiple patients.

Defective Medical Devices

Many types of medical devices could cause injuries to patients because of defective designs or construction. Everything from robotics used during surgery to prosthetics and surgical instruments could cause serious or even fatal injuries to individuals because of different types of defects. In these cases, manufacturers may be liable for different types of injuries resulting from defective devices.

Defective Products

Manufacturers of various products may also be liable for injuries or illnesses resulting from defective designs, manufacturing, or marketing materials. Products may not include labels indicating their dangers, for example, or defects may cause injuries even when people use the product as intended. Some products can also expose individuals to certain injuries and illnesses from toxic chemical exposure.

Large-Scale Catastrophes

Another type of mass tort case may involve catastrophes affecting many people because of an individual or entity’s negligence. As an example, an apartment complex might collapse because of defective construction, causing structural deterioration that eventually leads to a collapse and serious injuries or fatalities and making the construction company liable. Other catastrophes could include fires and explosions resulting from negligence or malicious intent.

How Long Do Mass Tort Cases Take?

Mass tort claims often take a long time to settle, with multiple factors impacting the entire timeline. 

Some contributing factors that might prolong a case include the following:

  • Gathering Sufficient Evidence — There are many types of evidence that can go into mass tort cases to prove negligence and subsequent damages. This evidence may include medical bills, witness statements, and other documentation that’s crucial in showing how the defendant’s negligence caused harm to all plaintiffs in the case.
  • Accounting for All Plaintiffs — A mass tort case may start with a few plaintiffs, but attorneys will need to identify all potential individuals who can become a part of the mass tort claim. This process could entail attorneys connecting with people within a specific affected region or reaching out to people on social media channels.
  • The Claims and Legal Process — These cases involve various processes that can further extend the timeline for mass torts, such as investigating the case, filing all relevant paperwork, negotiating with insurance companies, and presenting evidence during the trial process.

If you want to accelerate the process, follow your attorney’s legal advice, be honest about your experience, provide your attorney with as many details as possible to help your case, and avoid waiting until the statute of limitations for your case runs out to begin your case. 

How Do I Join a Mass Tort Lawsuit?

You may join a mass tort lawsuit in a couple of different ways, depending on the progress of the case and the number of people involved. 

If the case is new and lawyers aren’t already handling multiple lawsuits related to it, you may reach out to a mass tort lawyer to potentially begin a mass tort case if others have sustained injuries and other damages from the same negligent party. On the other hand, if there is already a case involved, you should try to connect with the lawyers handling the case. 

When you reach out to a mass tort lawyer, you’ll be able to sit with an attorney in a free consultation to discuss your case. The attorney will take this opportunity to learn more about the factors involved and determine whether you have a valid case. He or she can also determine if your case qualifies as part of an active mass tort case.

What Are the Advantages of a Mass Tort for Plaintiffs?

When similar injuries are caused to large groups of individuals, the advantages of a mass tort for plaintiffs include individual claims, higher monetary awards, reduced ligation costs, fewer judges and lawyers, less court time, and increased settlement negotiations.

Some advantages of mass torts for plaintiffs include:

  • Mass torts include a smaller number of plaintiffs than class actions
  • Each plaintiff files an individual lawsuit
  • Each plaintiff receives more money for damages
  • Plaintiffs have more power in settlement negotiations
  • Litigation costs are lower

In a mass tort lawsuit, each victim must file his or her own lawsuit. If numerous similar lawsuits are filed, they are consolidated into one court, at least during the discovery phase. This is an advantage because the information gathered by the mass tort lawyer in one case can be shared in other individual cases.

Mass Torts Versus Class Action Lawsuits

Class actions and mass torts are both types of litigation that provide a similar form of judicial relief. Because of similarities, the two types of litigation are often confused. In both types of cases, the plaintiffs are made up of a large group of individuals who have suffered similar injuries, and in both types of cases, lawsuits are consolidated into one action. Both types of cases are designed to address injury claims that arise when a lot of individuals are inured by the same defendant.

The primary difference between a class action and a mass tort is in how the groups of plaintiffs are treated. Class action lawsuits are filed on behalf of a class of people (a large group) who suffer similar injuries caused by wrongful actions. To bring a class action lawsuit, members of the class must meet the criteria outlined in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Class action lawsuits are designed to reduce the number of cases filed when thousands of people suffer harm because of the same issue.

In mass tort actions, each plaintiff is required to file an individual lawsuit. Legal actions are not filed on behalf of a “class” like in class actions where all plaintiffs in the class are treated as one. In mass tort litigation, a plaintiff’s legal rights are not automatically protected because they belong to a particular group or class. If damages are awarded, only those who filed an individual lawsuit will receive compensation.

In class actions, the total award is divided between the lawyer and the plaintiffs in the class, which could be thousands of people. 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.

The elements of a tort claim rely on proof that the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s damages. Whether there is one plaintiff or hundreds of plaintiffs, the defendant will have an opportunity to argue his or her liability through a number of defenses. If you’re injured, it’s important to talk to a lawyer who can explain the advantages of mass torts for plaintiffs before you decide whether a class action lawsuit or a mass tort lawsuit will have the best outcome.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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