What Is a Mass Tort?
A mass tort is a civil action brought by many individuals (plaintiffs) against one or a few defendants in court. People file mass tort lawsuits to pursue justice and recover financial compensation for losses and injuries caused by a single event like an accident or a defective product.
“Mass tort actions are not single cases, but rather groupings of individual lawsuits alleging the same issues against the same defendant(s).”
– Cornell Law School
Courts approve mass tort lawsuits to make it easier to hear many similar cases at once, rather than each case individually over a long period of time.
Class Action Lawsuit vs Mass Tort
Mass tort lawsuits are often confused with class action lawsuits because both involve a large group of plaintiffs suing over harm caused by a common defendant. However, there are some key differences between the two.
Class action lawsuits are filed according to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a) on behalf of a class of people who have similar claims and similar injuries. Class actions are headed by one or several people whose claims are representative of the entire class. Every person in a class action lawsuit receives the same amount in damages (monetary compensation).
In contrast, each plaintiff in a mass tort action must file their own lawsuit. Mass tort plaintiffs are not treated as one “class” or entity. If the court awards damages, only people who filed individual lawsuits will get compensation. Additionally, everyone receives different amounts based on their injuries.
Mass Tort vs Multidistrict Litigation
Mass torts may also be confused with multidistrict litigation (MDL), but these terms have distinct meanings.
Mass torts often involve multidistrict litigation, which is a legal procedure used to consolidate multiple individual lawsuits for pretrial purposes so they can proceed through the legal process quicker.
Types of Mass Tort Lawsuits
Some common categories of mass tort lawsuits include:
- Dangerous drugs
- Defective medical devices
- Major accidents like explosions, fires, plane crashes, and train wrecks
- Natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes (these cases are against insurance companies that haven’t paid out adequate funds)
- Product liability
- Toxic exposure, including asbestos exposure
Specific mass tort cases types being filed in 2023 include:
- Camp Lejeune water contamination
- Chemical hair straightener
- Exactech(R) ankle, hip, and knee replacements
- Firefighting foam
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (caused by baby formula)
- Philips CPAP
- Talcum powder
The Mass Tort Process
The mass tort litigation process can be complicated. Before you file or join a mass tort lawsuit, you should have an experienced personal injury lawyer by your side.
That said, here’s the basic mass tort lawsuit process.
Personal Injury Claim Filed
First, your attorney will help you file your personal injury claim with the right court. They will submit the required legal documents according to your state’s statute of limitations or deadline.
When enough individual personal injury claims have been filed, the courts may determine that they share common facts and legal issues. The court will then consolidate these individual cases into a mass tort, allowing for more efficient resolution and management.
Next, both sides go through a pretrial process called discovery in which each party obtains information from the other side about the witnesses and evidence they plan to present at trial.
Mass tort attorneys can help clients prepare for discovery by:
- Establishing a timeline of events
- Gathering information related to your lawsuit, including medical records and medical literature
- Interviewing expert witnesses
Sometimes, individual cases will go to trial to serve as a test or benchmark for how a judge or jury will react to the case. These are known as bellwether trials, and they are used to predict how the remaining cases may be resolved.
You may choose to settle your case before or during trial if you are able to reach an agreement with the defendant. If you can’t reach an agreement, your lawyer will continue fighting for your rights in court.
Your mass tort lawyer will try the lawsuit in federal court and present arguments before a judge or jury. The judge or jury will reach a verdict, and if the case is decided in your favor, you will be awarded damages.
Examples of Mass Tort Lawsuit Settlements
Examples of mass tort settlements in recent years include:
- Asbestos: Litigation over asbestos is one of the largest mass torts in U.S. history. The average settlement amount for individual mesothelioma (a type of cancer caused by asbestos) lawsuits is about $1 million.
- IVC filters: IVC filters are inserted into the vein that carries deoxygenated blood to the heart. They can migrate and fracture, puncturing the lungs and heart. Most IVC filter settlements range from $100,000 to $500,000.
- Roundup®: The weed killer has been linked to different types of cancer. A global Roundup settlement hit $10.9 billion with individual cases reportedly settling for up to $250,000.
- Transvaginal mesh: Tens of thousands of lawsuits have claimed that transvaginal mesh causes complications such as infection, pain, autoimmune problems, and bleeding. One transvaginal mesh manufacturer, American Medical Systems, agreed to settle mass tort claims for $54.5 million to avoid trials.
- Syngenta GMO corn: Tens of thousands of farmers have sued Syngenta for ruining the global corn market by falsely claiming that its MIR161 corn was approved for export. In 2018, Syngenta offered to settle the claims for $1.51 billion.
Are There Drawbacks to Mass Tort Lawsuits?
Mass tort lawsuits provide many advantages, such as judicial efficiency, reduced legal costs for individual plaintiffs, and individual plaintiffs having more power than in class action suits.
However, 3 potential drawbacks to mass tort lawsuits are:
- Difficulty finding lawyers with the resources or experience to handle these cases
- Extended litigation time due to increased complexity
- Reduced input and visibility during certain parts of the legal process
Despite these potential difficulties, a mass tort lawsuit can help you or a loved one seek justice and hold those responsible for your injuries accountable.
Learn More About Mass Tort Law
If you’re curious as to whether you are eligible to file a mass tort lawsuit, an experienced attorney can help. They can review the facts of your case and weigh in on whether you would be best served by filing your case individually or joining a mass tort.
Mass tort cases are notoriously complex. Be sure to ask any attorneys that you interview whether they have handled these types of cases before and what type of results they have secured for clients in the past. Additionally, make sure you understand how they plan to bill for their services.
There are mass tort lawyers and mass tort law firms that specialize in these and other complicated types of litigation.
A qualified mass tort attorney can not only handle your case but ensure that you receive fair compensation for your injuries.
What Is Mass Tort FAQs
What is considered a mass tort?
A mass tort is a lawsuit filed by multiple individuals who have all been harmed by a single event. Mass torts often involve defective products, large-scale accidents, and environmental occurrences.
What are the four major kinds of mass torts?
There are several different kinds of mass torts.
4 common types of mass torts are:
- Catastrophic accidents such as train and plane crashes
- Dangerous drugs
- Defective medical devices
- Toxic torts (injuries caused by toxic substances)
Are punitive damages awarded in mass tort cases?
Sometimes. Courts only award punitive damages if the responsible party’s conduct was egregiously malicious or negligent. These damages are meant to punish the defendant for their behavior and deter others from acting similarly.