The difference between mass torts and class actions is subtler when comparing other cases, as they often start due to similar circumstances. However, there are still many distinctions between mass torts and class actions and how they are handled.
Whether you are an attorney who wants to pursue either type of plaintiff, it will be extremely helpful to know how each type of lawsuit works. Below you will find everything you need to know about the differences and similarities between mass torts and class actions.
How Do Class Action Lawsuits Work?
Class action lawsuits involve a large group of people, like mass torts, however, the group of plaintiffs are treated as one plaintiff (a class) and are represented by an individual (the class representative). With class actions, the plaintiffs generally have very similar injuries/circumstances, and so, can be represented together.
To be established, a motion for representation for the entire group must be filed.
How do Mass Torts Work?
Mass torts are generally more complicated than class actions. This is because, unlike class actions which group together all plaintiffs, the plaintiffs will be represented individually. And so, in mass torts, each individual must be able to prove their claim.
Additionally, with mass tort cases, plaintiffs usually have too wide a variety of circumstances to be grouped as a class. Generally, cases with physical injuries will be pursued as mass torts since they can come with so many variables.
How Do I Know When a Case is a Class Action vs Mass Tort?
As an attorney, it may be a little confusing to decide whether to handle cases as a mass tort or a class action. After moving past the similarities (a large group of plaintiffs, legal action is against the same common defendant(s) and individual legal action is consolidated into a single lawsuit), it will be helpful to look at the number of variables and how to handle each plaintiff. This information can come from the client intake process and a thorough review of Federal Rule of Procedure 23 which governs class actions. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 23(a) provides that an action requires four conditions to qualify for class treatment:
- the class must be so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable,
- there must be questions of law or fact common to the class,
- the claims of the representative parties must be typical of the claims of the class, and
- the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
Class actions are generally permitted in all areas of law including product liability, environmental law, anti-trust and competition law, pension disputes and civil rights.
Mass tort cases are usually related to pharmaceuticals, medical devices (also known as medical mass torts), and consumer products. A mass tort is established if the factual situations between the plaintiffs are too different and outweigh the common issues necessary for a class action.
In most cases, mass tort claims are filed when consumers are injured on a large scale by defective drugs or products. As reactions to defective drugs or products differ greatly from individual to individual, these cases rarely fit into a single class. If you need a basic checklist to decide whether you want to pursue a given mass tort, MTI’s tort selection research checklist can be a great resource when determining whether it is worth it to engage in certain claims as a mass tort.
What about MDL’s When Discussing the Difference Between Mass Torts and Class Actions?
Multidistrict Litigation or MDL consolidates complex cases for pretrial proceedings, so they are managed in one court. By doing so, they help federal courts be more efficient than managing similar cases in different jurisdictions. MDLs can exist within both types, despite the difference between mass torts and class actions.
Currently there are a number of hybrid MDL’s featuring both mass tort claims and class action claims. The makers of Valsartan face mass tort and class action claims in MDL 2875 in the District of New Jersey. On the West Coast, makers of Juul vaping products also face both types of claims in MDL 2913 in the Northern District of California. In the Roundup MDL No. 2741, the presiding judge recently rejected a potential class action settlement for current and former users of the herbicide while simultaneously approving various mass tort settlement agreements. In some cases, a plaintiff can have a mass tort claim and a class action claim in the same multidistrict litigation.
There are a lot of complex considerations that are made in determining whether a case should proceed as a class action or mass tort. The Mass Tort Institute has a variety of products designed to increase your knowledge around these two areas of law.
Written by Nooreen Baig
About the Author
Nooreen Baig is the Marketing Strategist at The Mass Tort Institute. She is passionate about creativity in all aspects of marketing and beyond. Her background in American Literature and content creation means she can also contribute to MTI’s various content heavy channels.
The Mass Tort Institute is a consortium of industry leaders dedicated to providing education, training, and networking opportunities for those advocating on behalf of mass tort victims.