What Is the Difference Between Mass Tort and Class Action Lawsuits?

While many people use the terms “mass tort” and “class action lawsuit” interchangeably, these cases are separate and involve different types of civil suits. If you’re considering a claim, it’s important to understand the difference between mass tort and class action lawsuits.

The Difference Between Mass Torts vs Class Action Cases

Mass torts and class action cases involve similar types of lawsuits, but they work differently based on the way a defendant’s actions have affected the plaintiffs involved in the case.

To better understand mass tort vs class action suits, consider the definitions of each type of case.

What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?

Class action lawsuits typically involve multiple plaintiffs who wish to file a claim or lawsuit against one or more parties for damages they sustained because of the defendant’s negligence. 

In these types of cases, representative plaintiffs stand in for multiple plaintiffs to file the claim or lawsuit and negotiate a settlement. These lawsuits often comprise hundreds, thousands, or even millions of plaintiffs with a representative plaintiff managing the case for all of them.

There isn’t a specific number of plaintiffs needed to constitute a class action lawsuit, but the class must be large enough to receive certification. In most cases, a class is certifiable when it consists of at least a dozen members who sustained similar damages because of the defendant’s negligence. Also, the court considers all members in a class action lawsuit a single individual.

Each member has the option to “opt out” of the lawsuit before becoming a part of it. However, if individuals choose to opt in, they will have minimal control as plaintiffs in a class action case.

What Is a Mass Tort?

Some cases may involve mass torts instead of class action lawsuits, depending on the circumstances. Mass torts generally work much like class action suits, in that a group of plaintiffs files a claim or suit against one or more liable parties. However, with a mass tort, the effects of the defendant’s negligence may vary from individual to individual.

For example, a pharmaceutical company may release medication that causes harm to hundreds of plaintiffs, but each suffers different types of injuries and to varying degrees. As a result, this type of case wouldn’t meet the unifying criteria of a class action lawsuit, instead warranting a mass tort.

Plaintiffs in mass tort cases typically have more control over the direction of their cases, as they don’t wind up as part of a single class.

Benefits of a Class Action Lawsuit

Although mass torts offer certain benefits you won’t get with class action lawsuits, the latter type of case does still offer some advantages.

One of the principal benefits of a class action lawsuit is the ability to spend less money on representation. Plaintiffs in class action lawsuits benefit from equally distributed costs. Additionally, these cases often charge a contingency fee, which means that plaintiffs don’t need to pay any fees unless they succeed with the lawsuit.

Another advantage is the ability to opt out before getting involved in the class action suit. Depending on your situation, this might be the better option if you stand to recover a higher settlement through an individual claim.

There are circumstances when a class action lawsuit is more ideal than a mass tort, such as when you might not be able to recover a large sum of money as a plaintiff and want to avoid spending substantially more on recovering compensation.

Benefits of Mass Torts

The advantages of a mass tort may encourage you to file this type of claim in lieu of a class action lawsuit. 

You may choose to file a mass tort claim if you’ve opted out of a class action lawsuit because of unique circumstances pertaining to your case. 

In mass tort cases, law firms and lawyers representing individual plaintiffs may be able to more efficiently get the evidence they need to prove negligence and damages. 

Types of Cases Mass Torts and Class Actions Typically Involve

There are several types of cases that could result in either mass torts or class action lawsuits. Some examples of these include:

Defective Products

Many mass torts and class action lawsuits involve defective products. These could result from products with defective designs or construction that cause harm to multiple consumers. In some cases, products could also be dangerous if labels and other materials fail to warn consumers of potential hazards.

If manufacturers produce defective products that lead to damages, they may be defendants in a mass tort or class action case. 

Defective Medical Devices

These types of cases also often involve defective medical devices. Like other defective products, defective medical devices may contain certain design, manufacturing, or marketing faults that cause harm to many individuals. 

Defective medical devices in mass torts and class action suits could include prosthetics, surgical instruments, pacemakers, implants, surgical robots, defibrillators, defective CPAP machines, and many other types of faulty devices.

Defective Drugs

Pharmaceutical companies may become defendants in lawsuits if their drugs cause harm. In many cases, defective drugs cause side effects in individuals that may make their manufacturers liable if consumers never receive any warning about these side effects. 

Toxic Substance Exposure

People may also be able to file a claim or lawsuit after sustaining exposure to toxic substances that cause harm. There are many circumstances and environments that can lead to toxic chemical or pathogen exposure. For example, homeowners may suffer mesothelioma when breathing in toxic asbestos, while workers in some workplaces may suffer injuries or illnesses due to toxic chemical contact without proper protective equipment. Certain types of products may also lead to toxic chemical exposure.

Natural Disasters

While nobody is directly liable for natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes, insurance companies must pay out if their policies cover damage from these and other natural disasters. Because of this, insurers may be liable if they don’t pay out in time or a sufficient amount to cover injuries and other damages.

Various Catastrophes

In addition to natural disasters, man-made ones could result in mass torts or class action lawsuits. For example, negligent parties may cause explosions or fires in apartment complexes or other types of facilities, leading to many injured parties and extensive property damage. Landlords, tenants, and others might be liable in these cases if their negligence resulted in a disaster affecting multiple defendants.


Sometimes, lawsuits may result from an individual or entity’s discrimination toward others. For instance, an employer may unfairly treat certain employees based on the employees’ race, gender, religion, disability, or ethnicity.

Consumer Rights Violations

Various types of consumer rights violations may lead to lawsuits involving multiple plaintiffs. Some examples of consumer rights violations include:

  • Deceptive Advertising — Some of these cases could involve deceptive advertising in the form of misleading text and imagery used in various types of advertising materials.
  • False “Made in USA” Claims — Some companies may attempt to save money by outsourcing manufacturing to other countries, but they may choose to include a “Made in USA” label even though most or all of a product must be American-made to qualify for this label.
  • Auto Dealer Fraud — Automotive dealers may deceive customers by hiding fees, failing to disclose auto financing terms, or engaging in other behavior to take advantage of customers.
  • Hidden Fees — Customers have the right to know about various fees that they may face when making a purchase, especially when they’re signing contracts for certain services. These contracts require charges and fees to be clear and well-defined.
  • False Product Information — Product manufacturers may mislead or even lie to consumers with deceptive labeling and packaging or product information.

Why It’s Best to Hire a Class Action Lawsuit Attorney

If you and others in similar circumstances have suffered injuries and other damages because of one or more liable parties, you may benefit from filing a class action lawsuit or mass tort through an attorney.

One of the most important steps to take to succeed with a mass tort or class action suit is to hire a class action lawyer with the knowledge and resources to handle these types of cases. These attorneys have the ability to build strong cases against many potentially liable parties affecting multiple plaintiffs, including large companies like pharmaceutical brands, airlines, and manufacturers.

A lawyer for a class action lawsuit will be able to learn the ins and outs of your case to determine which steps to take. He or she can also collect sufficient evidence to prove negligence and how this negligence contributed to damages across multiple plaintiffs.

The main difference between mass tort and class action suits is how these cases treat plaintiffs. Knowing the difference may help you choose the right type of case to file against liable parties when the case involves multiple plaintiffs.

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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