What’s the Difference Between A Mass Tort and a Class Action Law Suit?
Legal terms can sometimes be confusing. Something may sound similar but have vastly different meanings. Many people have heard the terms “mass tort” and “class action lawsuit,” but they may not know what makes the two personal injury claims different.
What is a Tort?
First, let’s define tort; both actions involve torts. A tort is a conduct that causes harm or injury to another person. It is a civil wrong for which tort law seeks to compensate victims when they are injured or harmed by another party.
Generally, the victim seeks monetary compensation for damages caused by the actions of another party. Under tort law, most personal injury cases fall into three categories: negligence, intentional acts, and strict liability.
Negligence and intentional acts rely on the degree of care the party used. The victim must prove that the party breached a duty of care to recover money for their damages. However, strict liability does not require a victim to prove that a party breached a duty of care to recover compensation for damages.
Both mass tort and class action lawsuits involve injury or harm to a victim. However, in these cases, there were a large number of people who were harmed or injured by the same party or parties. Therefore, courts will combine the cases, but the difference is in how the plaintiffs’ claims (victims) are treated within the consolidated case.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit in which a few plaintiffs represent themselves and many other individuals over the same claim. The lawsuit includes many individuals, even though some may not have a lawyer and or be named in the lawsuit. Class action lawsuits help reduce the number of lawsuits filed regarding the same issue.
To form a class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs must petition the court to request permission to act on behalf of the entire class of injured persons. They must show that their experience with the defendant represents the same experience other people had with the defendant.
People that fall within the defined “class” must be given notice of the class action lawsuit. They have the opportunity to opt out of the lawsuit and retain their own attorney.
Everyone within the class is treated as a group throughout the entire case. Any court rulings and decisions made in the lawsuit are binding on all parties within the class. The outcome of the class action lawsuit applies to everyone who did not opt out of the lawsuit.
The compensation received from a class-action lawsuit can be very small. Even though a verdict may be worth millions of dollars, the attorneys’ fees and costs are paid first. The remaining money is divided among everyone within the class, with everyone receiving the same amount. There could be different classes in some class action lawsuits resulting in specific payments to different classes.
What is a Mass Tort?
A mass tort also involves numerous plaintiffs with similar allegations against the same party or parties. However, the lawsuits remain separate. Each plaintiff is represented by a lawyer of their choosing, and the lawsuits go to trial individually instead of as a group.
Each plaintiff must prove the defendant injured them and that the defendant is legally liable for the plaintiff’s damages. The outcome of one case in a mass tort does not necessarily impact the outcome of another case.
The purpose of a mass tort is to combine the lawsuits during the pretrial phase. The cases are combined for discovery and pretrial motions because the steps would be the same in each case.
By combining the cases for pretrial phases, it saves time and money for the plaintiffs. It also does not tie up the court with hundreds or thousands of cases with the same underlying allegations against specific defendants.
Mass torts are often used when plaintiffs suffered physical injuries or harm that may vary significantly in degree. A class-action lawsuit would not be appropriate because the plaintiffs’ damages are too different.
How Do You Know if You Have a Mass Tort or a Class Action Claim?
Mass torts and class action lawsuits are complex types of personal injury claims. They involve special rules and procedures that may not apply in typical personal injury cases. The best way to know whether your claim should be included in a mass tort or class action lawsuit is to speak with an attorney who handles these types of cases.
A mass tort attorney reviews your case and advises whether your claim might be included in a class-action lawsuit that is already pending, or whether your claim fits the criteria to be included in a mass tort. Because your legal rights could be impacted if you join a class-action lawsuit, it is wise to seek legal counsel before opting in or out of the lawsuit.