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What is the Difference Between a Mass Tort and a Class Action?

What is the Difference Between a Mass Tort and a Class Action?

Dec 20, 2016

When a large number of individuals (claimants) experience physical or financial harm resulting from the actions of the same defendant(s), it may make sense to group all of their lawsuits together. Mass torts and class action lawsuits are two of the ways that law firms streamline claims made by multiple claimants. However, there are some distinctive characteristics and procedures that set mass torts and class action lawsuits apart.

What do mass torts and class action lawsuits have in common?

Before we look at what sets them apart, here are a few commonalities between mass torts and class action lawsuits:

  • Both include a large number of claimants
  • Both have consolidated multiple claims
  • Both involve a common defendant/defendants

That’s where the similarities end, though. Read on to learn more about how mass torts differ from class action lawsuits and how each can be beneficial to the claimants involved.

Mass Tort

A “tort” is a civil (as opposed to criminal) wrong that has caused physical or financial harm to someone; a “mass tort” is simply many of those cases grouped together. The group may reside in a certain geographic area, for example. While the cases are grouped together, each claimant is treated as an individual—there are certain questions that need to be answered to determine exactly how that individual claimant was harmed by the actions of the defendant(s). However, there still need to be factual and legal commonalities established among the claimants in order to qualify as a mass tort.

It’s common to see certain types of cases classified as mass torts: pharmaceutical and medical device lawsuits, product liability, and large-scale catastrophes, for instance. With injury claims, although the cause may be common, the actual injuries may vary. By pulling the claimants together into a mass tort, the pre-trial proceedings (e.g. taking depositions, gathering documents and records, etc.) can be combined, rather than being reproduced multiple times. The cases are then split apart again and resolved individually to account for individual injuries.

Class Action

In a class action lawsuit, all members are treated as one claimant and represented by a class representative. Some examples of class action cases might be consumers who were deceived by the same false advertising, consumers who paid a wrongfully inflated price for a product, or employees who experienced the same type of discrimination based on race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. It can be difficult to get a group of injury claims approved as a class, since injuries are often highly specific to the individual. Also, the amount of settlement proceeds to which each individual is entitled can vary widely depending on age, health status, severity of the injury, and a variety of other factors.

A class action lawsuit provides for a much more effective process than litigating each case individually. A class of claimants banded together (numbering into the hundreds, or even thousands) can be a much more formidable foe for a large corporate defendant.

How do you decide which type of case to pursue?

There are many considerations that need to be taken into account when deciding whether to move forward with a case as a mass tort or a class action. If the individual damage done to the group of plaintiffs is fairly consistent, then a class action may make sense. If there are claimants with unique injuries or other types of harm done as the result of the defendant’s actions, then a mass tort may be the best route to take.

The Settlement Alliance provides streamlined service for law firms who represent mass tort and class action claimants. Contact us today to learn more about our mass tort, class action, and qualified settlement fund services.

We are proud to partner with the highest rated structured settlement providers in the industry:

  • American general Life Companies
  • Berkshire Hathaway Structured Settlements
  • MetLife
  • Mutual of Omaha
  • New York Life
  • Pacific Life
  • Prudential