Should My Injury Lawsuit Be a Class Action?

Mass torts vs. civil suit: What you stand to gain in Maryland

There are many scenarios where an individual or company's actions injure a large number of Maryland residents. When this happens, the victims have several options for seeking legal relief from the courts. They can each file an individual personal injury claim against the negligent defendant. Or they can form a class action or mass tort action.

While the terms “class action” and “mass tort” are often used interchangeably in the press, they actually refer to different things.

Class Actions

A class action is a special type of civil lawsuit where a small group of representative plaintiffs litigates a case on behalf of a larger group (or “class”). The class action is treated as a single lawsuit. This means the class is essentially treated as a single plaintiff, even if it has thousands—or even millions—of individual members.

Maryland courts have specific rules governing class actions. There are four basic preconditions a case must meet before it is “certified,” or permitted to proceed as a class action:

  1. The class has so many members that it would be “impracticable” for each one to bring a separate lawsuit.
  2. The class members all have a claim arising from the same set of facts, i.e. they were all injured by the same conduct.
  3. The representative parties' particular legal claims or defenses are “typical” of the class as a whole.
  4. The representative parties can show they will “fairly and adequately” protect the interests of the entire class.

Even if these conditions are met, a Maryland judge may still decide against “maintaining” a class action if he or she determines it would somehow now be in the interests of “justice” or too difficult to manage.

Mass Torts

Like a class action, a mass tort refers to a scenario involving a large number of plaintiffs alleging similar misconduct on the part of a common defendant or defendants. The key difference, however, is that a mass tort is not treated as a single lawsuit managed by a group of representative plaintiffs. Instead, each plaintiff in a mass tort must still prove certain facts relevant to their particular case. So even if one plaintiff in a mass tort is unsuccessful, the other plaintiffs may still proceed.

Mass torts are quite common in lawsuits involving defective drugs or medical devices. Thousands of people may be harmed by a particular drug, for example, but each case involves unique medical facts that preclude a class action. But it may be possible to consolidate certain procedural issues through the mechanism of a mass tort, such as having the same judge conduct all of the individual trials and rule on motions regarding the admissibility of evidence common to multiple claims.

The decision to bring or join a class action or mass tort should not be made lightly. Even if you might think there is “strength in numbers,” it may still be in your best interest to pursue individual action against the company whose actions harmed you. A qualified Maryland class action lawyer can review the facts of your case and advise you on the best course of action.

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