Call For Your Free Consultation
(314) 963-9000
Mass Torts 101: Class Action vs. Mass Tort

Mass Torts 101: Class Action vs. Mass Tort

Posted on Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

Mass torts, also called multidistrict litigations (MDLs), and class action lawsuits have many similarities, but they differ in a few crucial ways.

For one, MDLs are usually filed for some type of personal injury or death endured because of a drug, product, or device. Class action lawsuits are often filed when there has been a violation of contract or law.

In both cases, a large group of people have a similar grievance against a defendant, usually a company that they believe caused them injury or otherwise wronged them. Those people then file lawsuits against the company which are consolidated into a single action, instead of treating them all as cases to be tried separately. This is done to make it possible for all the cases to be handled, since the court system would be overwhelmed if thousands of plaintiffs’ cases were handled individually.

The major difference between mass torts and class actions is how each person is treated in the lawsuit. In a mass tort, or MDL, although the cases are grouped together and filed with the court at the same time. Each person involved is a plaintiff, and their cases are evaluated separately for compensation when a settlement is reached. This means that the amount of the settlement money that each plaintiff receives is based on the extent of injuries that were caused by the defendant. A person’s damages are based on what they personally went through: medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages are just some of the potential costs inflicted on victims.

In class action cases, there are only a few plaintiffs, and the rest of those who join are class members. The plaintiffs often receive the largest sums of compensation, and the rest is divided between the entire group, or class. Class actions often take less time and have a lower burden of proof than mass torts, but mass torts often can bring higher average compensation to the plaintiffs.

Class Action Requirements

According to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 23a, class actions have specific criteria that must be met in order to be considered a class action lawsuit. There are four major criteria, established by the Class Action Fairness Act and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that must be met:

  • The class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable
  • There are questions of law or fact common to the class
  • The claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class
  • The representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class

Beyond these criteria, everybody in the class must be notified of the suit and given the choice to either opt out or find their own counsel. A motion must be filed in court for a representative to act as a plaintiff on behalf of the entire class before a class action lawsuit can be established.

If and when a settlement or judgment is reached in favor of plaintiffs in a class action claim, the primary plaintiffs often receive the largest settlements. The remainder is divided among the rest of the parties in the class action based upon factors decided by the court or agreed upon by the parties.

Mass Torts/MDLs

Mass torts, or MDLs, are filed when one or more of the criteria of a class action are not met. Most mass tort cases are filed when the plaintiffs have been injured on a large scale by defective drugs or products. Because the reactions and health issues caused by these products can vary widely between individuals, these claims fail the third criteria listed above, and therefore cannot fit into a single class.

In an MDL, each plaintiff files a separate lawsuit. MDL cases are heard in the same court by the same judge so that the court does not have to be re-educated on issues throughout the litigation. The process usually involves bellwether trials so that all parties can get a feel for how juries will interpret the evidence.

The parties negotiate throughout the process. If and when plaintiffs and the defendant(s) come to an agreement, a settlement offer is established and all of the parties involved are awarded based on established criteria, which usually includes severity of injury, among other factors.

MDLs take considerable time — often years — to be resolved. Even when a settlement is reached in favor of plaintiffs, plaintiffs may wait many months or years to receive compensation. Still, often the wait is worthwhile. Finding an attorney you can trust, who will not settle for less than you deserve, is critical.

At OnderLaw, we handle both MDLs and class actions, but because most of our litigations involve defective products and pharmaceuticals, most of our clients are MDL clients. We pride ourselves on fighting for our clients for as long as it takes to earn them fair and just compensation. We have won more than $4 billion in court defending victims’ interests, and we are making a difference one case at a time.

If you are a client that signed up with our firm after being injured by a medical device, medication, or defective product, you can assume that you are part of an MDL group. In either case, we will have made this clear to you at the time your case was accepted.


It's not just a case, it's your life.

Talk to a Lawyer for Free

What is Your Case Worth?