Should My Personal Injury Lawsuit Be a Class Action?

Class action lawsuits versus mass torts and what you stand to gain in Maryland

By S.M. Oliva | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on November 16, 2023

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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.

1. What Is Required for a Class Action Suit?

A class action case is a special type of civil lawsuit, often brought against large corporations, in which a small group of representative plaintiffs or class representatives litigates a case on behalf of a larger group of people (or “class”) with similar injuries.

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 of the class.

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, that is, 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; and
  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.

2. What Is Required for a Mass Tort?

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 an individual 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 think there is “strength in numbers,” it may still be in your best interest to pursue an individual personal injury case against the company whose actions or defective products harmed you.

A qualified Maryland class action lawyer or law firm can review the facts of your case and provide legal advice (often in a free consultation) on the best course of action. For more information on this area of law, see our overview of class action and mass torts.

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