What Are Class Action and Mass Torts Law?

Two similar areas of the law with some key distinctions

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on February 6, 2023

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Corporations and other large businesses routinely put profits over consumer health and safety, and consumers can sustain serious physical, emotional, and monetary injuries due to a business’s actions. When a corporation or other large company engages in behavior that results in harm to more than one consumer, those injured consumers might consider the possibility of filing a class action or mass tort claim.

It is essential to know that class actions and mass torts are distinct from one another in terms of how the claim or claims get filed and how the court handles the case or cases. The laws governing class actions and mass torts under federal and state law are complex, so working with an experienced class action and mass torts lawyer on these cases is critical.

Class Action and Mass Torts – What You Need to Know

Class actions and mass tort claims offer a way for multiple plaintiffs who have similar injuries caused by a single defendant to seek compensation for their losses. The number of individuals in a class action, or the number of plaintiffs involved in a mass tort case, can range from dozens to thousands, and sometimes even more. Class actions and mass tort claims can arise from many different types of injuries and areas of the law: consumer product defects (including defective drugs and defective medical devices), environmental harms, and violations of federal labor laws and antitrust laws.

It is crucial for anyone who has suffered an injury that other people may have suffered to seek advice from a class action and mass tort attorney to determine the best way to move forward with a claim. An attorney can evaluate your case to determine whether a class action or mass tort is appropriate and assist you with the claims process.

Differences Between a Class Action and Mass Tort Claim

What is the difference between a class action and a mass tort lawsuit? Both types of lawsuits are claims involving many people who have suffered similar injuries for which a single defendant may be liable. However, how these cases move forward is quite different.

Class action lawsuits are types of cases with a single claim for many injured people. Mass torts, which are often brought through multi-district litigation (MDL), are many different lawsuits brought individually by the parties injured by the defendant.

How Class Actions Work

In a class action lawsuit, a single lawsuit is filed on behalf of a “class,” or the large group of people injured by a common defendant. With a class action claim, there will be one case that is heard by a jury. There will be a single verdict or settlement that will compensate all of the class members.

The idea with a class action is that the single named plaintiff can serve as the class representative of all the plaintiffs since the parties have the same (or very similar) injuries. Since the injuries are similar for many people, there is no need for many different individual lawsuits.

In class action litigation, the many injured parties are not all named as plaintiffs. Instead, they are part of a “class” of claimants, and the named plaintiff will represent all of the class during the lawsuit. Class action certification can be complicated, and specific federal and state rules of civil procedure govern class action claims.

How Mass Tort Actions Work

Mass tort actions are cases in which each injured person files their own lawsuit and is a named a plaintiff in their own case. The plaintiffs have the same or similar injuries (like class members in a class action), but the plaintiffs each get their own trial and an individual verdict or settlement. Many mass tort claims are brought through a process known as multi-district litigation (MDL). While each plaintiff has their own trial and hires their own attorney, a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee typically helps oversee the interconnected cases and their consolidation.

Requirements for a Class Action Lawsuit

What are the requirements for a class action lawsuit? Depending upon whether a class action is filed under federal or state law, the requirements are outlined under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or under state rules of civil procedure. In general, the prerequisites for a class action include the following:

  • Class is so numerous that joining all of the parties in a lawsuit is impracticable
  • Questions of law or fact are common to the members of the class
  • Claims or defenses of the representative plaintiff (or plaintiffs) is typical of the rest of the class’s claims or defenses
  • Representative plaintiff (or plaintiffs) will fairly and adequately represent the interests of each member of the class.

These prerequisites are necessary to achieve class action certification so that the lawsuit can proceed. Then, a class action notice must be sent to every potential class member. This number can total hundreds, thousands, or more in some cases.

Mass Torts vs. Class Action Claims

Class action lawsuits are often beneficial for parties with similar injuries caused by a single defendant because those parties can be eligible for compensation—and can hold the defendant accountable—without having to each file an individual lawsuit. However, each party in the group of plaintiffs will have to accept the damages award or settlement rather than having a chance to seek their own individual verdict based on individual harm. Given the complex requirements, class actions can also be more difficult to file than mass tort claims.

Mass tort claims allow individual plaintiffs to obtain their own verdicts. The cases tend to be easier to file than a class action since they do not require class certification or other requirements under federal or state rules of civil procedure. However, mass tort claims require each individual plaintiff to file a lawsuit and prove their case.

Common Class Action and Mass Tort Questions

If you were injured in a manner similar to other plaintiffs, either as a result of a defendant’s negligence or when a defendant is strictly liable due to its ties to a defective product, you may be able to seek compensation through a class action or mass tort claim.

The following are questions you should be prepared to discuss with a class action and mass tort claims lawyer when you meet to speak about your case and your options:

  • Is my case best suited to a class action or mass tort claim through multi-district litigation?
  • How can I know if I am part of a class that has already initiated a class action claim?
  • How can I locate other plaintiffs in situations similar to mine if I want to start a class action?
  • Will I be able to have a say in the damages award or the settlement?
  • Can I be in communication with other parties who are involved in the same class action or mass tort claim?
  • Can I later opt out of a class action or mass tort claim?
  • Can class actions and mass tort claims include wrongful deaths?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who specializes in class action and mass tort litigation.

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