Though you’ve likely heard of class action suits in the media, such as Facebook (Meta) paying $650 million over a personal data breach or Google paying $11M because of their search engine bias—mass tort cases are less well known.
While both types of cases involve plaintiffs suing the same defendant(s) for the same injuries from the same source of negligence, individual plaintiffs have vastly different roles in mass tort vs. class action claims, and the legal process varies greatly. Understanding the differences between the two types of suits is essential to hold large corporations and businesses accountable for their negligence and ensure that consumers are safe.
Plaintiffs in Mass Tort Cases vs. Plaintiffs in Class Action Lawsuits
In class action lawsuits, plaintiffs are lumped together in a class with other victims suing the same defendants. Class actions try to combine all the cases for the entirety of the court process. Plaintiffs in class action cases have less control over the case’s outcome because class actions are generally much larger than mass torts. Class action cases generally receive more media attention because of their broad application. The BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and the Enron scandal are examples of large-scale class actions that settled over the billion-dollar mark.
Plaintiffs in mass tort cases, however, are treated as individuals in the eyes of the court. Compensation is, therefore, based on the individual’s specific damages, much like a personal injury lawsuit. One of the most famous examples of a mass tort case is from the film Erin Brockovich, where PG&E was ordered to pay $333M to victims for tainting Hinkley’s groundwater.
Other Differences Between Mass Tort and Class Action Lawsuits
Although class action cases and mass torts share similarities, there are important distinctions between the two. Both types of cases involve many different plaintiffs suing against the same defendant(s). Yet, how each case proceeds in court, and the victim’s roles in each scenario vary greatly.
In class action cases, the claim is controlled by a Representative Plaintiff who, in the court’s eyes, represents every victim. The Representative Plaintiff is chosen as the case study for the entire class of victims and is responsible for bringing their case to trial on behalf of the other plaintiffs. Individuals can opt out of the class and bring their claims directly against the defendant in an individual mass tort lawsuit. After the court certifies the case as a class action, legal representation is appointed to the class.
Plaintiffs in class action lawsuits have similar grievances and are seeking compensation for the injuries they suffered against the same defendant (usually a large corporation). Employment discrimination, nursing home negligence, or illnesses due to a company’s failure to comply with FDA regulations are all examples of potential class action cases.
While plaintiffs in mass tort cases also come together to sue a defendant, each individual has a distinct claim. Members of the group are treated separately, which means victims can pursue fair and adequate damages based on their individual losses and injuries. Some examples of mass tort claims involve injuries due to faulty medical devices, water contamination, and dangerous drugs. Awarded damages also take into consideration the nature and scope of your injury, your age, and other relevant case factors.
Before a Representative Plaintiff is appointed, class action lawsuits must be “certified” by the court. Class action certification occurs when a judge rules that this class of people sustained similar injuries from similar situations. Each individual who is a member of the class becomes a member of the class-action lawsuit and must be notified that the claim is going forward. Members then have the option to opt in or out.
There are specific guidelines designed for certifying class action lawsuits that can be found in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:
Class size is big enough that individual lawsuits are impractical to try separately
Legal issues are common across the class
Claims and defenses of the Representative Plaintiff
Class representatives can effectively protect the interests of the entire class
Mass tort cases are different in that individuals seek their own legal counsel. Because mass tort lawsuits are usually filed individually, mass torts don’t require certification to proceed. Plaintiff’s attorneys can also coordinate their cases and pool their resources to gain a better outcome for their clients. Additionally, mass tort plaintiffs can reuse the evidence gathered in litigation to retry their cases in individual lawsuits if the general mass tort fails.
Settlement awards are one of the significant differences between class action suits and mass torts. In a class action, the court awards a lump sum to be divided equally among the entire class. Every person receives the same amount of compensation without consideration of their individual damages. Because of how settlements are distributed in class actions, folks who suffered considerable injuries are at a greater disadvantage than mass torts and may not recover a fair settlement.
Mass tort cases allow the victims to pursue compensation for a variety of damages, including medical expenses, lost income, and disability. Therefore, plaintiffs generally receive larger settlements comparable to their pain and suffering. Victims also have the right to refuse the settlement and pursue an individual case if they’re not satisfied with the original settlement.
Legal Resources for Victims
Knowledge and access are critical to successful legal action and receiving fair compensation. However, many victims in mass torts and class action lawsuits don’t have the resources to find and properly litigate these claims. Luckily, there are organizations dedicated to putting the power back in the peoples’ hands and getting injured victims the award they rightfully deserve.
National Association of the Deaf
Many public and private attorneys are not well-versed in ADA requirements and accommodations for folks who are deaf or hard of hearing. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is an organization dedicated to bridging this gap by providing equal access to legal services for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The NAD advocates for improved access to legal services and necessary accommodations, such as qualified interpreters, CART, and assistive listening devices. The NAD can aid local attorneys in accessing their state communications access fund (CAF), which covers the cost of communication access services.
Latest class action news
At ClassAction.org, they’re taking the guesswork out of ongoing class actions by providing access and knowledge to consumers. On their site, you can find information on active litigation and investigations, breaking news and opinion, and open class action settlements. ClassAction.org lists all ongoing class actions and deadlines, so impacted parties can easily sign up and receive compensation.
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