Class Action and Mass Tort: The Differences

Class action and mass tort cases are civil lawsuits with many similarities, yet very distinct differences in how they are “litigated” or processed through the legal system. Despite their differences, both class action and mass tort cases have a defined group of individuals harmed by a defendant’s product, fraud or other wrongdoing.

They are considered “consolidated” civil procedures – held in either state or federal court – and are consolidated to streamline the legal process in our already crowded court system.

What is a Mass Tort?

A mass tort is a lawsuit led by a nationwide network of attorneys on behalf of hundreds or thousands of people who have been harmed by the same product in a similar way. Most often, the represented individuals have suffered injuries or losses that vary in type and severity, but were caused by the same product. Mass torts are unique in that the individuals file their claims separately but are consolidated as a group and treated independently. The collective claims are heard concurrently for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, but are considered unique. Most mass torts often involve defective products, pharmaceuticals, antitrust issues, or public disasters.

Does a Mass Tort Have to Be Approved by the Court to Move Forward?

A mass tort doesn’t need to be certified, but it does need a judicial determination based on rules of joinder in order to move forward. An experienced attorney will ask the court for permission to file a mass tort action.

The court’s decision will be based on a number of factors, including the number of claimants and their injuries, where the claimants reside, and whether the injuries were caused by the same product or harmful act. If approved, the mass tort will be assigned to a judge. The mass tort may be advertised to notify the public so other victims have the opportunity to file a claim.

How Does a Mass Tort Proceed?

Once a judge is assigned, the representing attorneys conduct extensive and often costly investigations to support the claimants. One of the benefits of a mass tort is that attorneys share their investigations, resources, strategy, and other information to support their clients’ claims.

Judge in courtroom

The attorneys then submit the claims and evidence for a pretrial hearing through multidistrict litigation or what is often referred to as an “MDL” in a single court to help victims recover damages. The court could be in any number of U.S. cities but may be close to the headquarters of the defendant.

How are Mass Tort Claimants Compensated for Their Injuries or Loss?

Mass torts can be long processes, but sharing information between attorneys helps build a strong case to ensure victims may receive the best representation. Once a solid case is formed, the mass tort plaintiffs and defendant(s) may agree to a settlement, which must be approved by the presiding judge.

If no settlement is reached, a judge will make a decision through a trial process. If the defendant is found to be liable, compensation will be based on each victim’s circumstances, injuries, and losses.

What is a Class Action?

A class action is a single lawsuit filed on behalf of a large group of individuals sharing common injuries or other types of unfortunate circumstances brought on by the same defendant(s), such as fraud or overbilling. The most common types involve consumer products and services. Class actions are typically filed when individual lawsuits prove to be cost prohibitive, most often because injuries or damages are minor.

How is a Class Action Started?

A class action starts once an individual notifies an attorney of the wrongful act, injuries or damages caused by a product or service and the attorney elects to pursue a lawsuit. If the attorney decides to file a class action, that individual will be the lead plaintiff or class representative. In some cases, there may be more than one named plaintiff. The plaintiff(s) then collectively represent a group of individuals who have suffered the same circumstances or harm. This group can be less than 50 or over 50,000.

Does the Class Action Need to Be Certified?

Once a class action is filed with the court, it must become certified in order to move forward. The threshold requirements for class certification are set forth by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (under Rule 23a and 23b).

The following criteria must be met by the plaintiff’s claim:

  1. Numerosity – The class is so numerous that joinder of class members (filing together) is most practical.
  2. Commonality – There are questions of law or fact common to the class
  3. Typicality -The claims or defenses of the class representatives are typical of those of the class
  4. Adequacy – The class representatives will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class

The class must also meet additional requirements such as ensuring that the class action is superior to other types of available legal methods. If it can do this, it may become certified by the court.

What Happens Once a Class Action is Certified?

Once certified, the class action attorney will usually attempt to notify other victims of the ensuing lawsuit. These individuals are given the option to join the class by “opting in,” or they may choose to “opt out” and find their own legal counsel. Many times, victims don’t know about the wrongdoing until they are notified of the class action, especially in cases of overcharging or dangerous products.

legal paperwork

Experienced class action attorneys then conduct extensive research to prove that the defendant’s product or act similarly harmed the class members. During this time, the named plaintiff(s) must be available to fairly and adequately represent the absent members of the class.

How Is the Class Compensated?

The case evidence is presented to the court and the judge enters a judgement, which applies to all class members. This means potentially thousands of claims are resolved in a single proceeding. If the defendant is found liable (similar to “guilty”), it must follow through with the order. If the two parties decide to settle before the lawsuit goes to court, the judge must approve the agreed settlement to ensure it is adequate and fair.

The recovery, which may or may not be monetary, is divided equally between class members through a planned distribution by the defendant. In many cases, the award is minimal, but the corporate change brought about can be substantial.

Do You Have Questions About How to Pursue a Class Action or Mass Tort?

At Hodes Milman Liebeck, we take great pride in making the determination on how to represent our clients’ best interests. Whether it’s through a class action, mass tort or individual case, we work hard on our client’s behalf to obtain just compensation. We are always investigating situations of fraudulent or deceptive behavior. Please call (949)-640-8222 to speak to one of our legal representatives today.

Q & A: Class Action and Mass Tort Lawsuits

Q: What are some examples of class action and mass tort cases?

A: Examples of class actions include a telecommunications company that overcharges customers for services, a corporation with discriminating hiring or wage practices, or a corporation dumping toxic products into the environment. Mass tort examples may involve a medical device such as a defective hip replacement system that was released to the market without adequate testing or a dangerous drug that caused victims to suffer traumatic injuries or even loss of life.

Q: How do I begin class action and mass tort claims against a dishonest company?

A: Class action and mass tort cases have substantial factors that determine which course of action is best. Making this determination can be difficult due to case law, precedents or government restrictions and is best handled by an experienced team of attorneys. In fact, an attorney may determine that an individual lawsuit is the best way to hold a dishonest or negligent company accountable.

Q: How long does it take for class action and mass tort claims to settle?

A: Both are typically lengthy processes that can take three years or more to settle or for a judgement to be rendered, however some lawsuits have settled in less time.

Q: I was just notified of a class action involving a security breach affecting my personal information. I was also a victim of identity theft recently. Should I join the class action?

A: You may want to contact an attorney before making that decision. Your damages may be more than other victims, which means you may be entitled to more compensation outside the class.

Q: My doctor just told me I have liver damage that may have been caused by my prescription medication. Can I file a lawsuit against the drug manufacturer?

A: Yes, it’s quite possible depending on your circumstances. There may even be a mass tort regarding the drug. It’s best that you contact an experienced defective drug attorney to discuss what type of lawsuit will be best for your situation.

Contact Hodes Milman Liebeck for a No-cost Consultation

If you or a family member have been harmed by a defective drug, dangerous product or other wrongful act, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and other losses. If so, please contact us at (949)-640-8222 to speak to one of our highly experienced legal representatives about your potential case.

All consultations are no-cost, no obligation. We know that the details of your situation are unique and private, and we can assure you that all calls are confidential. Please remember that each state has its own consumer protection laws about negligence, which means strict time limits apply.