Tort law, sometimes called “personal injury law,” deals with civil misdeeds rather than criminal misdeeds. Tort litigation provides plaintiffs the opportunity to seek remuneration for injuries and/or harm caused at the hands of another entity, whether the acts that led to their injuries and/or harm were caused intentionally or as a result of negligence. Mass tort litigation deals with making numerous plaintiffs whole for injuries and/or harm incurred at the hands of one or very few defendants. The defendants in mass tort lawsuits could be individuals or corporations, such as drug or toy manufacturers.
Mass tort litigation differs from class action litigation in that plaintiffs in class action lawsuits typically all receive the same judgment and compensation. However, each individual plaintiff in a mass tort lawsuit is subject to varying degrees of judgment and compensation. Mass torts often involve multidistrict litigation (MDL), a process designed to help federal courts from multiple districts efficiently process cases that all share common issues.
What Does Mass Tort Mean?
What is a mass tort? According to Cornell Law School, in legal terms, the word “tort” refers to any civil act or omission that causes injury or harm to another individual. A mass tort is defined as an act or omission that causes injury or harm to many people. Under the umbrella of tort law, “injury” refers to the breach of a person’s legal right(s). “Harm” refers to a loss suffered by any person. To reiterate, a mass tort is an action (or omission) that leads to the harm of numerous entities.
Common Types of Mass Tort Cases
You may be surprised to learn how prevalent mass tort cases are in our current court system. It is estimated that MDLs presently make up more than half of the federal civil caseload, for better or worse. (There has been debate over whether or not MDLs are more beneficial to plaintiffs or corporations.) There are many different examples of mass torts. Some of the more common and recent examples of mass tort litigation are outlined below.
Dangerous or Defective Products
Product liability is one of the most common types of mass tort. Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that when consumers purchase their products, they spend their money on something safe and have all of the necessary information about the product to make an informed decision about potential hazards. When manufacturers neglect to check these boxes, the potential for mass torts comes into play. The three major types of product liability mass torts are defective designs, inadequate instructions or warnings, and manufacturing malfunctions.
Defective Medicines or Medical Devices
These cases also fall under the category of product liability, and are, unfortunately, all too common. A number of MDL cases involve prescription drugs with unintended side effects that consumers were not warned about or medical devices that may end up causing more harm than good over the long term due to defective design.
One recent example of such a case has to do with transvaginal mesh. Since 2012, more than 108,000 lawsuits have claimed that transvaginal mesh has caused tremendous pain, bleeding, organ perforation, autoimmune complications, and infections. The MDL for transvaginal mesh was closed as of November 2022. Before it was closed, however, multiple companies settled thousands of claims, amounting to hundreds of millions of payouts, and in 2019 the FDA halted all mesh sales related to pelvic organ prolapse. This is just one example. Other recent examples of such cases include Xarelto, Zofran, Paragard IUDs, CPAP machines, Injectafer, and Tepezza, to name a few. In the 1980s, silicone breast implants were a significant source of such litigation.
Defects in Motor Vehicle
No matter how hard automobile manufacturers work to improve vehicle safety year over year, defects in motor vehicles remain a common cause of personal injury. These defects are usually either a result of a manufacturing or design flaw. Listed below are some common examples of motor vehicle part defects that often lead to product liability lawsuits:
Car tires that are prone to blowouts
Defective seat belts
Fuel system failures, resulting in flames
Poor side-impact protection
Poorly designed SUVs that are more prone to rollovers
If particular makes and models of motor vehicles are found to have recurring issues with any of the above, and they have not been recalled from the market or the consumer after the manufacturer is made aware of the issues, this can lead to mass tort litigation.
Disasters that are man-made, such as power plant explosions, oil spills, or train derailments, fall under this category. In these cases, the number of injured parties may range from dozens to hundreds, each with its own unique complaint of harm and need for compensation. Despite numerous victims in such incidents, typically just one, or very few entities are responsible. These types of catastrophic events are often subject to multidistrict litigation.
Like large-scale catastrophic events, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, or uncontrolled forest fires can cause mass destruction and severe injuries to surviving parties. As these disasters are acts of nature, as opposed to being man-made, there is no one entity to hold responsible for injuries and harm incurred from such events. However, mass tort litigation may still result in the wake of a natural disaster if insurance companies fail to adequately pay out claims to affected parties.
Toxic Substance Exposure/Contamination
Injury or illness caused by toxic substance exposure or contamination is yet another example of a common cause of mass tort litigation. The exposure and contamination in such cases can occur at places of work, in schools, or other (usually older) public buildings. Exposure to mold, asbestos, lead, or toxic chemicals can lead to adverse long-term health issues. Dangerous consumer products may also lead to contamination from such substances.
The most famous example of toxic substance mass tort litigation is also the first and largest example of such a case. Vietnam soldiers exposed to Agent Orange have been known to suffer from certain cancers and other “presumptive diseases” related to said exposure. Children born to these same vets are also believed to be at higher risk for certain developmental issues at birth.
What Are the Benefits of Mass Tort Lawsuits?
As previously mentioned, there has been debate on whether mass tort lawsuits are of more benefit to plaintiffs or corporations. That question remains up for discussion, but it cannot be said that there aren’t benefits to be found for plaintiffs in mass tort lawsuits. Each plaintiff in a mass tort case files an individual lawsuit, giving them more power in settlement negotiations and making it possible for them to receive compensation specifically related to their personal circumstances. This may be preferred over a class action lawsuit, where every plaintiff receives the same settlement, and settlements tend to be lower. Because of the “mass” nature of these lawsuits, litigation costs tend to be lower for plaintiffs. In many cases, these lawsuits bring much-needed public and government attention to consumer safety issues. They also ensure that corporations are held accountable for negligence and provide them with the push they need to make products safer through product liability.
Resources for Victims
If you’ve been injured and you’re considering filing a claim, you’ll want to find a trustworthy and capable personal injury attorney in your area. They will be your best resource throughout the legal process and can point you in the right direction if your claim belongs in a mass tort lawsuit. Before you speak with an attorney, check out this comprehensive guide on the recommended steps for hiring a personal injury attorney.
If you’re not quite in the market for an attorney but are interested in learning more about mass tort lawsuits or legal terminology, there are some great, free online resources available to everyone.
Find Free Online legal Advice
The American Bar Association Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic that provides an online version of the walk-in clinic model. Users may request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue from a volunteer lawyer by posting their civil legal questions to their state’s website. Lawyers will then follow up with basic legal advice and information, with no expectation of long-term representation. This is a great resource for people who are seeking advice and information about non-criminal legal matters but cannot afford a lawyer.
You can contact the ABA through the ABA Service Center Hotline at (800) 285-2221 or email them at Service@americanbar.org, Monday - Friday, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM ET.
Disability and Temporary Disability Benefits
Depending on a number of factors, such as the nature and severity of your injury, your age, your financial status, and whether or not you are able to work after your personal injury, you may be eligible for government-funded disability benefits that can help with finances while you await results of your mass tort lawsuit.
If you meet the following requirements, you may qualify for SSDI benefits:
You are unable to work due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least a year or result in death.
Your disability is not partial or short-term.
You meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.
You are younger than your full retirement age.
For SSI benefits, the following requirements must be met:
Are age 65 and older, or blind, or have a disability.
Have limited income (wages, pensions, etc.).
Have limited resources (the things you own).
Are U.S. citizens, nationals of the U.S., and some noncitizens.
Reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the Northern Mariana Islands. It does not include Puerto Rico, Guam, or the United States Virgin Islands. Exception: The children of military parent(s) assigned to permanent duty outside the U.S. and certain students temporarily abroad may receive SSI payments outside the U.S.
Are under age 18 and have physical or mental condition(s) that very seriously limit their daily activities for a period of 12 months or more or may be expected to result in death, and
Live in a household with limited income (benefits based on need) or resources.
To determine which benefits you may qualify for, you can reach the program at 1-800-772-1213 or go to https://ssabest.benefits.gov/benefit-finder/.
For more information about Agent Orange and its effects or guidance on what to do if you think you’ve been exposed to this toxic substance, check out this helpful article. https://www.repforvets.com/agent-orange-presumptive-list-vietnam-era-veterans/
Step into the world of Expertise.com, your go-to hub for credible insights. We don't take accuracy lightly around here. Our squad of expert reviewers, each a maestro in their field, has given the green light to every single article you'll find. From rigorous fact-checking to meticulous evaluations of service providers, we've got it all covered. So feel free to dive in and explore. The information you'll uncover has been stamped with the seal of approval by our top-notch experts.