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Mass Tort vs Class Action Cases

Jun 28, 2023

When multiple people are involved in a legal case, knowing the difference between mass tort and class action cases is essential. Both types of lawsuits are about the harm done to many people, usually by the same thing, like a defective product, a dangerous drug, or corporate wrongdoing. But even though they are similar, the way they work and the benefits they give to plaintiffs are very different.

The legal system often uses mass tort and class action cases to ensure that companies are held responsible for their actions and that victims get the money they deserve. So, whether you’re in a similar lawsuit or just interested in these legal terms, knowing what makes them different and how you can use them is essential. Read on as we dive into the specific differences and nuances of mass tort versus class action cases.

What is a Mass Tort?

Simply put, a mass tort is a legal action where many people are hurt or affected by the same product, event, or activity. These people, known as plaintiffs, file individual lawsuits against the same defendant (usually a company or organization), arguing that the defendant’s actions or products have directly caused them harm.

Think of it like this: imagine a toy company sells a toy that has a design flaw causing injury. Each parent whose child sustained injuries from the toy could file their own lawsuit against the toy company. Even though each case is separate, they get grouped for certain parts of the legal process because they all revolve around the same issue: the flawed toy. That’s what we call a mass tort.

The specifics of each person’s experience and the damages they suffered are considered separately in a mass tort, meaning everyone might not get the same compensation if the lawsuit is successful. This kind of lawsuit allows individuals to fully tell their story and have their unique circumstances considered when determining their compensation.

Common Types of Mass Tort Cases

Mass tort cases can spring up from many different scenarios in the wide world of law. This can range from defective products causing harm to consumers to widespread health issues caused by hazardous substances. So, let’s dive into some of the most common mass tort cases.

1. Pharmaceutical Drug Cases

You might have seen those commercials for drugs on TV that end with a rapid-fire list of possible side effects. While these medicines are supposed to help people, they can sometimes cause unexpected harm. When a drug harms a large group of people, those affected may file lawsuits against the pharmaceutical company. These lawsuits can claim that the drug had unreported side effects, wasn’t adequately tested, or didn’t get marketed correctly. Each patient’s experience with the drug and the harm it caused them is considered individually in these cases.

2. Medical Device Cases

Just like pharmaceutical drugs, medical devices are supposed to improve our health. However, sometimes these devices fail or cause unexpected problems. For example, if a company manufactures a hip replacement that later is found to fail prematurely, causing injury to the patients, each person harmed can file a lawsuit. The court will handle each case separately, considering the unique health impacts and financial losses experienced by each patient.

3. Product Liability Cases

We use various products in our everyday lives, from kitchen appliances to electronics, and we trust these products to be safe and effective. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. If a product is defective or dangerous and causes harm to a large number of people, those affected can file individual lawsuits against the manufacturer. This could be anything from a malfunctioning toaster that causes house fires to a car tire that frequently blows out on the highway.

4. Environmental Cases

Our environment can drastically impact our health and quality of life. When a company’s actions lead to environmental damage that affects many people, those affected may file lawsuits against the company. For example, if a company dumps toxic waste into a river that many people use for their water supply, leading to widespread health issues, each person affected can file a lawsuit.

5. Disaster Cases

Sometimes, large-scale disasters can lead to mass tort cases. This can include incidents like a train derailment, a large fire, or a building collapse. When many people are injured or suffer property damage due to a disaster caused by someone else’s negligence, each person can file a lawsuit.

Common Examples of Mass Tort Cases

As you explore the history of mass tort cases, you’ll come across several high-profile examples. These cases span decades, and each one has shaped the legal landscape as we know it today. These cases include:

  • Agent Orange – Started in the 1970s, involved veterans experiencing health problems due to exposure to the herbicide used during the Vietnam War.
  • Asbestos – Began in the 1980s, lawsuits against companies for causing lung diseases, including an ongoing case against Johnson & Johnson.
  • Silicone breast implants – The first significant lawsuit was in 1984, linking these medical devices to cancer.
  • Tobacco – There were a series of lawsuits in the 1980s against cigarette manufacturers for concealing the health dangers of smoking.
  • Transvaginal Mesh (TVM) – Lawsuits started in 2012 and 2013 against the manufacturers of this medical device used to treat pelvic organ prolapse, which caused severe health issues.
  • Vioxx – Involved a pain medication causing heart attacks and strokes, leading to lawsuits against the manufacturer, Merck.

What is Class Action?

A class action is a type of lawsuit where a large group of people, all affected by the same issue, come together to sue a defendant. Imagine this: you and your neighbors find that a nearby factory is polluting your water supply, causing health problems. Rather than each person suing the factory individually, you could unite and file one class action lawsuit.

In this scenario, a few individuals, known as “class representatives,” file the suit on behalf of the larger group or “class.” The court must approve the group’s recognition as a class before proceeding. If the class action wins, the awarded compensation gets divided among the members. This process is more efficient than multiple individual lawsuits and helps hold responsible parties accountable when their actions cause widespread harm.

Types of Class Actions

Class actions can come in various types, each tailored to address different situations and the affected group. Here are the main types of class action lawsuits:

1. Securities Class Actions

These involve investments and financial markets. For example, if a company releases false information that causes its stock price to rise, the truth comes out, and the stock price falls, causing losses for many investors; those investors could band together for a class action lawsuit against the company.

2. Consumer Class Actions

These cases typically involve situations where a company has deceived its customers or sold defective products. Say a company sells a line of smartphones that catch fire due to a manufacturing defect; those who bought those phones could join in a class action.

3. Employment Class Actions

These lawsuits deal with issues in the workplace. They can involve claims like wage and hour violations, discrimination, or unfair labor practices. For example, if it comes out that a company is systematically underpaying its female employees, those employees could have the basis for a lawsuit.

4. Personal Injury Class Actions

These cases involve people who have all sustained physical harm by the same cause, such as a dangerous drug, a defective medical device, or exposure to a hazardous substance. So, if a pharmaceutical company releases a new drug that causes harmful side effects in many patients, those patients could unite for a class action lawsuit.

Key Differences Between Mass Torts and Class Actions

While mass torts and class actions are legal tools used when a large group of people is affected by the same issue, they have some significant differences. Understanding these differences can help you know how these types of lawsuits operate and how they might affect the people involved.

1. The Way the Court Handles Individual Cases

In a mass tort, each plaintiff’s case gets handled individually. That means each person has a lawsuit, and the court considers the case specifics independently. So, one person might get a different amount of compensation than another based on their unique circumstances.

On the other hand, in a class action, the lawsuit gets filed on behalf of the entire group, or “class,” and the court treats all members as one plaintiff. If the case is successful, the compensation typically gets divided among all the class members.

2. The Court’s Role in Defining the Group

Before a class action can proceed, the court has to approve the group of plaintiffs as a class. The group needs to meet specific criteria, like many people suffering similar harm.

In contrast, for a mass tort, there is no need for the court to approve a group of plaintiffs. Each person files their lawsuit independently, even though the cases might get grouped for some parts of the legal process.

3. The Ability to Opt Out

In a class action, potential class members are usually notified about the lawsuit and allowed to opt out or not participate. If they don’t opt out, they get included in the class and bound by the lawsuit’s outcome.

Individuals have more control over their cases with mass tort since each lawsuit is separate. They decide for themselves whether to file a lawsuit and can make their own decisions about how to handle their case.

Why Are Mass Tort Cases Increasing?

Mass tort cases have been on the rise for several reasons. The key factors contributing to this surge are increased awareness, evolving legal landscape, and technological advancements. The biggest reasons include but are not limited to:

  • Advancements in technology – The internet and social media allow information about potential harms to spread quickly, and technological advances have made managing these complex cases more efficient.
  • Evolving legal landscape – Changes in regulations and legal precedents have made it easier for victims to file mass tort cases, and courts are more willing to hold corporations accountable for widespread harm.
  • Increased awareness – People are more aware of their legal rights and potential damage from defective products or harmful substances, encouraging them to seek justice by filing a claim.

What is Negligence in a Mass Tort Case?

In a mass tort case, negligence refers to a situation where a party (often a corporation or manufacturer) fails to uphold a certain standard of care, leading to harm. Essentially, it’s when someone doesn’t act responsibly or does something they shouldn’t, resulting in injury or damage to others.

Consider the following hypothetical scenario. Suppose a company creates a medication and releases it to the public without thoroughly testing it for side effects. As a result, a large number of users suffer adverse health effects. In this case, the court system may find the company negligent for not properly ensuring the product was safe before release. They failed in their duty of care to the medication users, causing harm.

Negligence is a critical element in mass tort cases. For a successful lawsuit, plaintiffs must usually demonstrate that the defendant was negligent, that they failed to uphold their duty of care, that this failure caused harm, and that it resulted in damages (like medical bills or loss of income). By proving negligence, those affected can potentially get compensation for any harm they’ve experienced.

Connecticut Mass Tort Lawyers

When you’ve been affected by a large-scale issue, whether this is a defective product, dangerous drug, or environmental hazard, seeking legal assistance from a Hartford personal injury lawyer is crucial. In Connecticut, finding a legal team specializing in mass tort cases and having a proven track record of success can make all the difference. The mass tort lawyers at Hassett & George are here to provide the professional, personalized legal representation you deserve.

Our skilled attorneys understand the complexities of mass tort cases. We know these cases are about more than just dealing with the immediate consequences of negligence but also about pursuing compensation for the long-term effects on your life and well-being. We dedicate ourselves to guiding you through every step of the process, offering expert advice and support.

At Hassett & George, we’ve successfully represented many clients in mass tort cases, helping them get the compensation they need to recover and move forward. Our team has dealt with cases involving various issues, from defective medical devices to harmful pharmaceuticals and environmental hazards. We use our broad experience and detailed knowledge of mass tort law to build a strong case for each client we represent.

Don’t face the challenges of a mass tort case alone. If you or a loved one has sustained harm as part of a larger group, reach out to Hassett & George. Our dedicated Connecticut mass tort lawyers are ready to fight for the justice you deserve.