Mass tort cases commonly stem from things that affect numerous people or a group of people, such as a defective drug or poorly designed product that causes harm. The defendants in mass tort cases are often big corporations, such as pharmaceutical companies. At times, these cases receive widespread publicity and make news headlines. Since these types of claims affect many people, they have the power to spread awareness, change policies, improve safety and discourage big corporations from continuing negligent behavior. However, the majority of mass tort cases go unmentioned in the media. Regardless of the attention, mass tort cases are related to legal issues that inflict pain on those affected.
Mass Tort Vs. Class Action
Mass tort litigation is often confused with a class action. It’s easy to find the similarities between the two – both involve multiple parties and similar injuries. However, there are a couple of major differences between a mass tort and a class action:
In a class action, there is one single lawsuit filed on behalf of all of the plaintiffs involved. With mass tort litigation — on the other hand — each individual files their own separate lawsuit, but the cases are handled together by one judge for trial, discovery, and legal ruling. Joining the cases together makes it less complicated and more convenient for the courts. Because each claim is treated as a separate lawsuit, compensation is offered according to the damages each party has incurred.
Stages of Mass Tort
As with all personal injury cases, there are distinct stages to a mass tort case. The case can settle at any point and either party can lose at any stage. Due to the risk, mass tort lawyers typically avoid filing suit until they’re confident the plaintiffs have a valid claim. It isn’t uncommon for multiple lawyers from different firms to team up to work on these cases together. The process overall can take years. With multiple lawyers, numerous victims and several lawyers involved, case management is critical in mass tort cases.
If you think you may have a mass tort claim, it’s important to understand the several stages of the process you could go through along with your lawyer. Here are the main stages:
- Review records
- Distinguish injury uniformity
- Filing civil lawsuits
- Bellwether trials
- Settlement or resolution
To determine if you have a case, your lawyer will have to review a significant amount of records, such as statements made by the plaintiffs along with allegations of injuries you suffered. Not just for you, but for all the other plaintiffs.
In an ordinary personal injury case, defense lawyers look at records for the last ten years, but with mass tort litigation, they’ll dig through your entire medical history. They’re searching to see if you had a pre-existing condition that could be the reason for your injuries or illness or at least a contributing factor to it.
Since the defendant will be working hard to prove they are not to blame for your injuries, it’s important to tell your lawyer everything so there’s no unexpected surprises along the way. For instance, if you were in a minor fender bender 15 years ago, you’ll want to inform your lawyer of the accident, even if it didn’t result in known injuries. Giving your lawyer all the facts helps him to better prepare and represent you – as well as everyone else part of the mass tort case.
Mass tort lawyers have to uncover and identify consistencies amongst their clients in order for a case to even qualify as “mass torte.” If the plaintiffs are claiming that a certain medical device caused their injuries, the lawyer will need to find similarities among the claimants to prove the product was the cause. In these types of cases, the group of plaintiffs all have identical or nearly identical injuries. As an example, in the talcum powder cases, thousands of plaintiffs suffered from ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
Although each plaintiff has their own individual lawsuit, mass tort lawyers need to build one case against a defendant. The structure of each lawsuit has to be similar because there will be just a handful of cases that set the stage for the rest of the cases. If some cases fail to fit the established uniform pattern, they may not be entitled to compensation.
Mass tort attorneys categorize their cases in various ways. Some may opt to do so based on the severity of injuries. Other groups are based on the age at the time of injuries. When the case is settled, damages are assigned based on the category of your claim.
Filing Federal Lawsuits
Lawyers consolidate mass tort claims by filing them together, thus making it faster and more convenient for everyone involved. The courts prefer the consolidation because it streamlines the process. Mass tort cases are filed and tried in federal court, not civil court. Regardless of where plaintiffs live in the country, they’re filed together.
Before holding hearings for every case, the courts like to try a handful of cases. These sample jury trials are known as “bellwether trials.” The lawyers handling the mass tort litigation tend to choose the most serious cases and most similar for bellwether trials. Sometimes they include people who have passed away or facing imminent death, Bellwether cases are a trial-run for judges and juries – basically a way to gauge how the other cases will go. Although they’re often treated like trial-runs, they’re outcomes are vital and set the stage for the rest of the cases. If the courts rule in favor of the defense in a bellwether case, the other cases do not even go to trial.
Reaching a Settlement or Resolution
The last phase of a mass tort is the settlement or the resolution. The timelines for settlement vary since some mass tort claims are more complex than others. It may take months or years, but most of these cases do eventually settle. Trials are time-consuming and expensive, therefore it’s often in everyone’s best interest to reach an agreement without having to take all cases to trial. Even if a trial is won, there’s always the chance of an appeal. The same is true for a lost case. Once settled, the court divided compensation based on each plaintiff’s individual damages.