If you’ve ever seen the movie “Erin Brockovich” with Julia Roberts, then you’ve seen a mass tort case.
Mass tort cases are lawsuits designed to help people harmed by the negligence of an individual or company’s actions. Pharmaceutical companies, abusive employers, and corrupt corporations have all been taken on in court in mass tort lawsuits. But while many group mass tort within class action cases, mass tort is its own distinct type of litigation. Mass tort actions are not single cases but rather groupings of individual lawsuits alleging the same issue(s) against the same defendant(s).
Due to the nature of mass tort actions, these lawsuits frequently involve multidistrict litigation (MDL). One of the most significant differences between an MDL versus a class action is how the compensation is divided among the claimants. Mass tort cases are used specifically when a class cannot be certified or when there are other benefits than filing a class action.
Average Mass Tort Settlement Amounts
There’s no average individual settlement amount in mass tort cases. Unlike class-action lawsuits, plaintiffs don’t split the awarded compensation across the board. Instead, each plaintiff receives their settlement based on the specific damages and unique circumstances of their case. However, there are three main categories of mass tort litigation that have led to nationwide settlements and large payouts for plaintiffs. The three primary categories for successful mass tort litigation are:
These settlements have all been related to natural disasters, toxic substance exposure, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device manufacturers.
Toxic Exposure: $5K to $250K
Toxic Exposure is a category of tort that occurs when a group of plaintiffs is exposed to a harmful chemical or substance, causing injury. Pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, and asbestos are all examples of Toxic Exposure claims. In some instances, these categories can also be included under the Product Liability tort.
Bayer, the maker of Roundup, is in the midst of ongoing lawsuits around their popular weedkiller. The mass tort lawsuits allege that Roundup caused users to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer, and failed to warn consumers of the health risks associated with using their products. Though they maintain that their products are safe, Bayer has agreed to pay over $10 billion to settle existing claims and allocated $4.5 billion to resolve future claims. According to Environmental Health News, the estimated average settlement is $160K per plaintiff, with each plaintiff’s share calculated using a ranking system based on the following factors:
Their type of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Their age at the time they were diagnosed
The stage and degree of their cancer
The length and severity of their treatment protocol
Their type and degree of exposure to Roundup
Johnson and Johnson (J&J) is one of the largest companies under fire for using talcum (or talc) in their baby powder products. The lawsuit alleges that talcum powder caused users, particularly young Black and Latina women who the product was specially marketed to, to develop ovarian or mesothelioma cancer. Though J&J isn’t admitting any wrongdoing, it’s been well established by researchers for over thirty years that the use of talcum powder can lead to ovarian cancer. These claims largely contributed to J&J dropping its talc-based products in 2020 with plans to cease sales of these products worldwide. J&J is setting aside close to $9 billion to cover these ongoing allegations and the 60,000 current claims, which makes the average settlement amount upwards of $100K.
A bombshell Congressional investigation in 2021 revealed that several major brands of baby food (including Gerber, Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best Organic, and more) are tainted with unsafe levels of toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. Research has shown that consuming these dangerous metals causes neurologic conditions, including autism and ADD, in developing children. In 2019, the Trump Administration was informed through a secret industry presentation given to federal regulators of the toxic levels of heavy metals in baby food. However, these findings were largely ignored. Since the release of the Congressional report, baby food product liability lawsuits have been on the rise, and individuals could see big payouts depending on their case. The Tylenol autism lawsuit is another rapidly growing lawsuit as new medical research emerges linking autism and acetaminophen, suggesting that in-utero exposure to Tylen (acetaminophen) may be linked to higher rates of autism of other neurologic disorders. The Tylenol autism lawsuit is in its early stages as claimants are still being recruited, but it could be a major payout.
Product Liability: $100K - $500K
Product liability tort is a category of law that holds manufacturers, distributors, and product retailers liable for injuries caused due to a defect of design, manufacturer, or marketing. In product liability tort, there are five criteria to establish liability, including:
The plaintiff used a product that the defendant sells
The defendant sells the product as a function of commercial business
Plaintiff sustained an injury
The product was defective when the defendant sold it
The product caused the plaintiff’s injury
Millions of Black women in the U.S. use hair relaxer products regularly, but it’s only recently that the health risks of using these products have been made public. Uterine cancer is one of the most common gynecologic cancers. Over the past two decades, researchers have investigated the use of certain hair products, such as permanent dyes and straightening treatments, and the rising mortality rates of gynecologic cancers. According to a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in late 2022, consistent findings emerged to show an association between the use of straightening products and uterine cancer. The research also underscores a racial disparity in that Black women are more likely than any other ethnicity or race to be impacted. The mass tort against hair relaxer manufacturers is still in the process of litigation, with the defendants including major hair care companies like Revlon, L’Oreal, and more. Consumers who have used these products and face serious reproductive system health issues should consider reaching out to an attorney to inquire about potential compensation.
Transvaginal mesh implants are used by hundreds of thousands of folks across the U.S. However, these medical devices have proven to be more dangerous than initially advertised. Endo’s transvaginal mesh implants, used to treat urinary incontinence, caused users severe pain and bleeding after the product erupted. With over 60K lawsuits and billions of dollars in potential damages, the current number of mesh cases against seven leading manufacturers makes it one of the largest MDLs in history. Endo initially agreed to an $830 million settlement but has since made payouts exceeding $2.6 billion due to additional lawsuits. Currently, mesh cases are settling for $140 - $160k for plaintiffs who’ve undergone one revision surgery, and from $300-$500K for folks with multiple corrective surgeries. High potential average case values and a large number of potential plaintiffs make transvaginal mesh cases one of the most lucrative for claimants.
Mass Disaster: $1M
Mass disaster mass torts fall under two classifications: man-made or natural disaster.
Large scale catastrophe
Large-scale catastrophes are man-made in origin, and they injure dozens or even hundreds of people at the same time. Because the same entity is responsible for the cause of the disaster, it’s less time-consuming for victims to form a mass tort to secure compensation. A fire that burns down an apartment complex or an explosion at a manufacturing plant are both examples of large-scale catastrophes. In Northeast Portland, a property management and garbage company paid out more than $6 million to settle a lawsuit brought by three families and another man injured during a July Fourth fire in 2021. Many may remember the 2018 Woolsey Fire that devastated over 96K acres in Southern California and destroyed over 1600 homes. The Woolsey fire gained notoriety partially because some of the victims were celebrities. Early evidence points to a failure of Southern California Edison (SCE) equipment when power lines arced, igniting tinder-dry grasses. One hundred seventy homeowners and businesses filed a mass tort suing SCE in 2018 fortheir negligence in the Woolsey fire. SCE settled their lawsuit for $2.2B in 2021 with over 1,000 individual and business plaintiffs, which makes the estimated settlement well over the $1M mark.
Natural Disaster: $40K-$70K
Natural disasters are similar to large-scale catastrophes that cause significant damages and injuries. Since no one party is directly responsible for the disaster, these mass tort claims can be complex and challenging to measure accurately. Insurance companies can be liable in mass tort lawsuits if they fail to pay out claims after a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado. Insurance companies are responsible for ensuring their clients receive compensation in a timely and efficient manner, but too often, that’s not the case. Insurance companies often deny, delay, or underpay property insurance claims following natural disasters. Sometimes a natural disaster will not be covered by insurance even if the disaster is included in your policy. In one lawsuit, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (LCPIC), a state-run insurance company, was sued for underpayment of residential property claims after Hurricane Isaac.
Factors That Influence Mass Tort Settlement Amounts
Every mass tort lawsuit is different. Depending on the extent of your injuries, the circumstances of your claim, and local injury laws, your compensation could vary widely from other plaintiffs. In mass tort lawsuits, each individual plaintiff’s damages are determined based on their specific losses, including special damages and general damages. Special damages are expenses with a fixed price and are easier to determine, such as medical bills and debt, attorney costs, and property damage. General damages, however, cover more subjective expenses relating to emotional distress, trauma, and healing. The following are typical types of (special and general) damages seen in these mass tort cases:
Medical expenses (past and future)
Lost wages and benefits
Pain and suffering
Since the court handles mass tort lawsuits individually, each plaintiff receives an award based on their specific damages. An attorney can help folks estimate a settlement amount according to their case.
Comparative Negligence Laws
In some states, comparative negligence is a partial defense in tort cases. A comparative negligence defense can be raised in any injury claim if the defendant was partly responsible for causing their harm. Under comparative negligence, victims can recover monetary damages from a defendant who shares the blame for harming them, but their compensation will be reduced based on how they contributed to the incident. In some extreme cases, claimants can’t recover anything depending on how much of the guilt lies with them. Your state’s negligence law determines if and how much you may collect when filing an accident claim.
Pure Comparative Negligence Law
Pure comparative negligence law allows both parties in an accident to seek compensation for damages and reduces the settlement amount based on each party’s degree of fault.
States with pure comparative negligence laws:
Modified Comparative Negligence
A modified comparative negligence law allows you to collect from the other driver, but only if your degree of fault is under a certain threshold. While pure comparative negligence lets you make a claim if you’re up to 99% at fault, modified comparative does not.
Two threshold rules used: a 50% rule and a 51% rule.
With a 50% threshold rule, you cannot collect if you’re 50% or more responsible. If your fault is equal to or greater than the other driver, you’re out of luck if you want to file a claim against the other driver’s insurance company. There are ten states with modified comparative negligence 50% rule.
States with 50% rule-modified comparative negligence:
A 51% threshold rule is similar, but you can still collect from the other party if you’re up to 50% at fault. Once you hit the 51% barrier, you can no longer seek compensation this way. Below are the 23 states with modified comparative negligence laws that follow the 51% rule.
States with 51% rule -modified comparative negligence:
How a Mass Tort Litigation Attorney Can Help Recover Compensation
Victims in mass tort accidents deserve excellent legal representation, but many fear the financial burden of a lawsuit. However, in most mass tort lawsuits, attorneys don’t collect fees unless the plaintiffs receive a settlement award. Mass tort cases can be highly complex, which is why having a quality lawyer on your side will increase your chances of collecting damages. Attorneys with mass tort experience can file the lawsuit on your behalf and guide you through the nuances of the litigation process.
File on your behalf
During the initial phase of mass tort lawsuits, a lawyer reviews all of the details related to the plaintiff’s injury. Documentation includes any medical treatment, medical bills, and other incurred expenses as a result of the negligent act and injury. Once the attorney reviews all the documentation, they will proceed with filing the appropriate paperwork to start the mass tort litigation process.
Prepare the litigation
Mass tort attorneys identify consistencies among their plaintiffs’ cases and represent multiple cases at a time. A quality lawyer will be able to explain the tort process and guide you through the best options for maximum compensation—streamlining the process for you. Additionally, an attorney will understand local negligence laws and talk you through how these local regulations could impact your settlement amount. An attorney will ensure all relevant arguments are utilized to build the strongest case possible.
Going to court is costly, and most companies will attempt to settle out of court first to avoid expensive trial costs. An attorney will communicate directly with the defendants and negotiate on your behalf an award proportional to your specific and general damages. Effective legal representation is the best chance to recover fair compensation and help others avoid future injuries.
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