Understanding Mass Torts and your Rights
- February 19, 2015
- Product Liability
To understand a mass tort, you must first understand a “tort.” A tort is a wrongful act committed by a person that leads to the injury of another person, the victim. Someone who commits a tort is liable (or responsible) for virtually any consequence of that action. A mass tort then, is one tort that affects many victims. The victims are also known as “plaintiffs” and the person or entity that they are suing is the “defendant.” So mass torts have many plaintiffs, but usually only one, or comparatively very few, defendant(s). They can be in either state or federal court. They often end up in federal court because they involve large sums of money and/or people from around the United States. For example, a Dallas mass tort law firm could serve people who live in California for the same claim as someone who is living in Texas.
Two Common Types of Mass Torts
There are two common types of mass torts: consumer product claims and pharmaceutical claims. Consumer product claims usually involve dangerous products whereas pharmaceutical claims involve dangerous drugs. People often do not realize that a product or drug is dangerous until after they have used it, so mass tort law firms advertise to warn people of the dangers and to add anyone who has been harmed by the product or drug to the lawsuit. Even though there are lots of different people involved, each underlying plaintiff’s claim is extremely similar.
Mass torts are a great way to pool resources so that lawsuits can make it through the legal system quicker and more efficiently. However, only a few firms practice this type of work because it is extremely complicated, and keeping track of each lawsuit is difficult (especially when there are potentially hundreds). A law firm’s upfront costs for experts, research, and gathering clients can be staggering. Only extremely organized and experienced law firms can provide this type of service to their clients.
Distinguishing Between a Class Action Lawsuit and a Mass Tort
Some people may recognize the term “class action lawsuit” instead of mass tort. Although class action lawsuits and mass torts are similar, they have very distinct characteristics. A class action lawsuit requires that every member of the class that could sue be notified of the suit (or as many people as practical). One person will represent the entire class when the case goes to court, and that person’s case must be a legitimate case on its own, without the other class members involved.
In a mass tort suit, the attorneys represent several injured parties in separate cases, but they are conducted together for efficiency purposes. The plaintiffs involved are not completely combined like a class action lawsuit, but attorneys can share results of any one attorney’s investigation. For example, a Dallas drug injury lawyer could investigate a drug’s effect on people in Dallas and share that information with another law firm in Ohio who is investigating the same thing. Mass tort lawsuits tend to be more complicated than class action lawsuits because of the way that they are structured and the varying degrees of claims that are involved.