Understanding the differences between a mass tort and a class action is the first step in seeking justice for those wronged on a mass scale.
What is a Mass Tort vs. a Class Action?
Both mass torts and class actions are types of lawsuits that represent the shared experiences of many people. The most significant difference is how each type of lawsuit treats the individual claimants. Mass torts allow for more personalized attention by giving you justice for your individual claim. Class actions, on the other hand, give out general justice to individual claims.
You can trace this difference to the fact that mass torts require harm or injury to be present, while financial loss alone may be enough for a class action suit. In a mass tort, if someone suffered more than someone else— say one person developed minor breathing problems from inhaling toxic chemicals but another developed cancer—their compensation would be adjusted accordingly.
Besides this general definition, what exactly is the difference between a mass tort vs. class action? Unfortunately, a proper understanding of this complicated distinction isn’t usually taught. This means that the victims of corporate negligence don’t often know about possible legal avenues they can take to find justice.
Without this crucial foundation of knowledge, victims often don’t seek justice or seek it too late. It makes sense—if you believe you’ve been a victim of corporate negligence, you don’t always have the time or resources to quickly understand your legal options.
Here, we break down the differences between class actions vs. mass torts to help you get a grasp of the legal proceedings available to you. In a nutshell, mass torts and class actions are two different ways for injured parties to pursue justice against the party or parties that caused them injury by joining with others who have also been wronged. You can think of them as unions for justice.
What is a Mass Tort?
A mass tort is a type of lawsuit filed by a group of plaintiffs (victims) who all have similar claims against a defendant or group of defendants (corporation or organization who wronged them).
Mass torts are a common legal option when a company harms or injures many people through the same means (harmful drugs, ongoing misbehavior, disregarded safety measures, etc.). Common mass torts include defective drug torts, defective medical device torts, and product liability torts.
Mass torts are generally filed as part of multidistrict litigation (MDL). In a mass tort case filed as an MDL, each individual victim will have their own case and their own attorney, but the attorneys can work together to combine evidence and resources to ensure that the victims are being treated fairly, and the whole story is being told.
In an MDL, all the lawsuits are joined before one federal judge for the first part of the lawsuit, known as the discovery phase. For this part of the process, the judge selects a group of attorneys to handle discovery on behalf of all the victims. These attorneys can often work out a mass tort settlement on behalf of all the victims. Each individual victim can then decide whether they want to participate in the settlement based on the proposed terms.
What is an example of a Mass Tort?
A tort refers to a civil wrong that has been done to a person that results in injury, harm, or loss. Torts are not criminal offenses. Those at fault in a tort case may not have broken the law, but they did breach a duty to safety or to not cause harm.
Mass torts are just like regular torts but on a larger scale. They can include businesses, such as those that manufacture defective or harmful products that cause injury. The party, in many cases the business, that causes this harm, can be held legally liable.
Medical malpractice is often an example of a tort. Take a doctor who does not provide a patient with a reasonable and competent degree of care. Say, for example, that this doctor orders a prescription for a patient without checking medical history and chooses a medication the patient is allergic to. If the patient took the medication, this would result in injury to the patient and qualify as a tort.
An example of a mass tort, on the other hand, would be the case against the harmful chemicals in Monsanto’s Roundup that cause cancer or illnesses in many instances. In this case, a business produced a product that caused harm and illness to a large group of people, and that business can be held legally liable.
What is a Class Action?
In a class action lawsuit, one lawsuit is filed on behalf of a group of people who have suffered the same or similar losses. A class action lawsuit can help streamline a case, reducing the number of individual claims that need to be filed against a defendant or group of defendants.
It’s a method for a small group of plaintiffs (victims) to join together to file a lawsuit on behalf of a larger group of plaintiffs (now known as the class). A class action suit is also a way for courts to manage lawsuits that would be unmanageable if every single possible victim were required to carry out their own individual lawsuits.
Class Action Requirements
For a case to be a class action lawsuit, it must fit a few specific requirements:
- Members of the class (group of victims) must be notified and given the opportunity to opt out or find their own legal representation.
- A motion must be filed for one or a group of victims to act on behalf of the other injured victims as the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff(s) selected as the representative must show that their experience with the defendant(s) represents the experience that other plaintiffs have had.
- The representative plaintiff(s) must show that a class action lawsuit is an ideal way to hold the defendants(s) accountable for their actions and that requiring each plaintiff to file their own lawsuit would not be as beneficial.
What is an example of a Class Action Lawsuit?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Six Flags closed many of its parks around the country due to lockdowns. Despite the closings, Six Flags continued to charge season pass holders for the months the parks were closed.
Rather than file hundreds of lawsuits for each season pass holder seeking to have their money returned, a class action was filed to represent all season pass holders at once. In this case, plaintiff Ryan Strassburger was selected to be the representative case of the class action, giving the lawsuit its name: Strassburger v. Six Flags Theme Parks Inc.
As a result, refunds, free admission, and other benefits were awarded to eligible members who were charged during the months of closure.
What are Key Differences Between a Mass Tort vs Class Action?
- A class action lawsuit is a type of lawsuit that combines what would have been the individual suits of many victims into a single case. Mass Torts follow a similar set-up but require harm or injury to be present in the case.
- In a class action lawsuit, one victim or a small group of victims will represent the entire group. In a mass tort, each victim will file their own individual lawsuit in a mass tort, but their attorneys will combine resources and investigative findings.
- In a class action lawsuit, the court’s decision is binding on all participants. In a mass tort case, there are multiple individual cases and multiple individual results. A negative result in one case will not necessarily affect the result of another case.
- In a class action lawsuit, one potential award or settlement amount must be divided between all victims. In a mass tort case, each victim will receive their own settlement.
Tort Law is our Expertise
The Guardian Legal Network provides victims of corporate negligence with the resources they need to get the justice they deserve. If you think you’ve been a victim of corporate negligence, reach out to us today, and we’ll begin the process of connecting you with a knowledgeable attorney to help you learn about your options. Contact us today by filling out our online form or calling us at (855) 734-0374.