Difference Between a Class Action Lawsuit and a Mass Tort

What Is the Difference Between a Class Action Lawsuit and a Mass Tort?

Class action lawsuits and mass tort litigation are two ways the court system can deal with large numbers of injured plaintiffs in a more efficient way. While the options are similar in that they both offer a way for the courts to handle many cases at once, the main difference between a class action lawsuit and a mass tort is the consolidation of the groups.
At Gacovino, Lake & Associates, P.C., we handle class action and mass tort claims, and understand how to navigate these complex legal processes. If you believe you may be part of a large injured class, or if you believe you may qualify for one of these cases already in progress, we can help.

How Are Class Action Lawsuits and Mass Torts Similar?

At their most basic, both class action lawsuits and mass tort litigation are procedural actions that help the courts deal with a large number of similar cases quickly and efficiently. In general, they both involve:

A Group of People with Similar Injuries, or Injury Mechanisms

Every member of a class or a mass tort suffered injuries or financial damages in a similar way. In a class action, most of these injuries are very similar while the severity may differ significantly in mass tort litigation. For example, a defective medication that caused heart palpitations is more likely to be the focus of a class action suit. If defective tires caused car accidents with varying severity of injuries, it may be a mass tort instead.

The Same Defendant

The entire class in a class action lawsuit or the group of plaintiffs in mass tort litigation must all be alleging injury from the same defendant. If another defendant caused similar injuries in the same way, the cases may run concurrently but the courts are unlikely to consolidate them. This often occurs in cases when victims suffer injuries from defective drugs manufactured by several different pharmaceutical companies.

Consolidated Court Action

Both class action lawsuits and mass tort litigation consolidate the court action for a portion of the process, using a single case or a few cases to represent the entire group of cases. This is key in making this type of court procedure more efficient than dealing with hundreds or thousands of individual lawsuits.

How Are Class Action Lawsuits and Mass Torts Different?

Despite the similarities between class action lawsuits and mass tort litigation, there are significant procedural differences between the two. Courts use them in different ways, and the outcome for an individual plaintiff can differ significantly depending on which procedure applies to her case.

Class Action Lawsuits

Class action lawsuits use a single case — or a small handful of cases — to represent an entire group of people. Members of this group, known as a class, all receive compensation from any payout the courts award in these cases. In essence, the courts treat the entire class as a single plaintiff. The outcome of the single case, the class representative, applies to all other members of the group as well.

Mass Torts

The biggest way mass torts differ from class action lawsuits is that courts only consolidate mass torts for pre-trial proceedings. The courts combine all the torts for the investigation, collection of evidence, and discovery processes. While there are bellwether trials to see how other cases may fare, they do not directly tell other jurisdictions how to proceed. When the pre-trial proceedings and bellwether cases wrap up, each individual lawsuit goes back to the court where it began for trial.
There are several reasons a court might consolidate cases into mass tort litigation. This may be because there are not enough plaintiffs to warrant a class action claim or the courts do not believe the victims suffered similar enough damages. There are two general ways courts deal with mass torts: by consolidating the cases in state court or by moving them to federal court for Multidistrict Litigation.
While many mass torts reach a settlement following the bellwether cases, others continue to trial in their original jurisdiction. This is an important difference from class action lawsuits. The injured parties in a mass tort need to present the specific details of their situation, and present evidence of the full range of their damages. This allows these plaintiffs to recover compensation based on their individual experience, instead of basing their payout on someone else’s case.

How Can an Attorney Help Me Understand My Class Action Lawsuit or Mass Tort?

At Gacovino, Lake & Associates, P.C., our legal team of skilled class action and mass tort attorneys can explain your legal options for compensation. We can help you understand how to navigate your claim, and guide you through either of these complex processes. Call us today at 631-600-0000 to schedule a free case evaluation.