What is a Mass Tort?
Posted on Monday, November 7th, 2022
If you’re unfortunate enough to have been injured by a dangerous product, drug, or medical device, you’ve likely heard the term “mass tort” in reference to your lawsuit. For those who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the law, this term can be confusing. After all, it’s not one that’s often used on tv crime or law shows.
If you don’t quite understand what a mass tort is or how it differs from, say, a class action lawsuit, you’re not alone.
How does a Mass Tort Differ from a Class Action?
Imagine that an electric company overcharged all of its thousands of clients $5. If the case became a class action lawsuit, the end result would likely be that the company would have to pay $5 back to each of its customers.
If the case was a mass tort, however, every customer would be evaluated separately. Some would probably get their $5 back, but others might qualify for other damages. Every case would be decided on its own individual merits, and though some claims might be similar and have similar results, they would all be evaluated based on their unique circumstances.
A mass tort is a specific type of litigation created for when a large number of people are harmed by a product, drug, or medical device. All of the cases in a mass tort litigation involve the same questions of fact; in other words, the goal of the litigation is to prove whether or not a dangerous or defective product is the likely cause of certain injuries.
Because of this, mass torts are usually consolidated into multidistrict litigations (MDLs) — the same court for purposes of discovery: that is, the procedural process in which all of the expert testimony, facts, and other information from both sides are presented and evaluated for trial.
If these cases aren’t able to be settled following bellwether trials, they can be tried in courts around the country.
Though the same defective product is responsible, the injuries people sustain cover a wide range and cannot be put into a single group.
For example, if we look at talc-related ovarian cancer mass tort claims, here are a few possible scenarios:
- Some women were diagnosed early, had surgery, and recovered fully.
- Some women have had to undergo chemotherapy for a time, but were successfully treated and are considered to be “cancer free” today.
- Some women were treated successfully but suffered a recurrence of ovarian cancer or a related secondary cancer.
- And, of course, the worst-case scenario, treatment for many women has not been successful and they have died from cancer or related illnesses.
Though women in each scenario were injured by the same product, the extent of their injuries differs considerably. Still, the cases all involve the same science, the same types of experts, and similar arguments.
There are tens of thousand of talc-related ovarian cancer cases, and if every one of them went to trial, not only would they take hundreds of years to resolve, but they would clog up the court system for a very long time.
By grouping them into a mass tort litigation, the same court will hear all of the cases filed within that jurisdiction. The court will hear a variety of claims, usually involving each type of injury with many variables within those cases, and even though the process likely takes many years, it’s still considerably shorter and less of a burden on the court system than if each case was heard individually.
What is the Difference Between Mass Torts and Class Action Lawsuits?
There are many procedural differences between mass torts and class actions, but the most significant difference for the parties involved is that, in a class action lawsuit, claimants are put into a “class” and compensated similarly. In a mass tort lawsuit, attorneys for each plaintiff file individual claims, and if they win, plaintiffs are eventually compensated based on their individual circumstances.
What Types of Mass Tort Litigations are There?
There are five main types of mass torts:
- Toxic exposure mass torts (also called “toxic torts”). These involve pollution or chemical contamination that causes personal injury or financial losses.
- Disaster mass tort. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires are often no one’s fault, but insurance companies sometimes refuse to pay for damages they should cover.
- Large-scale catastrophes. When large-scale man-made catastrophes happen, such as building collapse or plant explosions, individuals or families with injury or death claims can become involved in mass tort litigations.
- Product liability. Hazardous medical devices, dangerous products, or drugs with undisclosed hazards all fall under product liability actions.
Mass torts have only been around since the late 1960s. They began first with litigations involving airplane crashes, then Agent Orange and other lawsuits that involved a large number of people with different injuries. Read more here.
How Many Mass Torts Exist Today?
Today, mass tort litigations make up a considerable number of cases in U.S. civil courts, and their size and scope is increasing. For example, the largest mass tort litigation in U.S. history is currently underway in Florida involving more than 230,000 current and former service members who experienced hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and other damage after using faulty military earplugs provided by 3M.
Have Mass Torts Done Any Good?
OnderLaw attorneys serve in leadership positions for some of the most prolific mass tort litigations. We’ve seen first-hand the power of the people, and we’re proud to stand by so many Americans to hold corporations accountable and to force them to change the way they do business.
Mass tort litigations have been agents of change. In many cases, it is only after hundreds or thousands of people stood together to hold corporations accountable that change has happened.
It hasn’t always been that way. Agent Orange provides an excellent example of just how far we’ve come.
Of course, now it is commonly accepted that Agent Orange is dangerous, but for years, Monsanto refused to acknowledge that Agent Orange was the cause of numerous serious health problems. Because so many veterans stood together, eventually, they could no longer deny their liability. Still, they ended up compensating victims ridiculously small amounts – an average of $3,800 each.
Half a century ago, few people questioned corporations, and the vast majority of people believed that Monsanto, J&J, Dow, auto manufacturers, and so many other corporations had their best interest in mind.
Today, we understand all too well that corporations have committed terrible acts to hide the dangers of their products, and that holding them accountable in court is the only way to affect change.
Mass tort litigations are a powerful way that “the little guy” – you and me and our friends and neighbors – can stand up to corporations when they harm people for the sake of profits. Mass torts hold corporations accountable in ways that regulators won’t, or ways that they simply don’t. We’re honored that our clients have put their trust in OnderLaw. Together, we are making a difference.
Need representation for a dangerous product, toxic exposure, natural disaster, or catastrophic loss? We want to help.
Call OnderLaw at 866-384-5060 for a free, no-obligation consultation.