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Class Action vs. Mass Tort: What’s the Difference?

Class Action vs. Mass Tort: What’s the Difference?

By Jared Hagood of The Hagood Law Firm, PLLC.

As an attorney, I am often asked about major mass torts that we often read about in our newspapers or watch on national and local news programs.  Oftentimes included in these discussions is whether or not that case is class action, and if not, what is the difference between a class action and mass tort.

Class Actions

A class action involves similar claims by a group of people who have been injured by one or more common defendants.  The individuals within the class consolidate their claims into one legal action.  Class action suits may be brought in federal and state court depending on the particular claims filed.

The claims or lawsuit are not litigated individually, rather the actual class action lawsuit itself is only litigated.  The court-approved outcome settlement applies to all the members of the class, unless the individual claimant or class member opts out (pursuant to either the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or State law).

Mass Tort & Multidistrict Litigation

Individual claims involving the same product, defect, or one major event that are not allowed to proceed as a class action are referred to as mass tort claims.  These are individual claims and lawsuits that are bundled together for discovery and pre-trial proceedings in order to save time, resources, and money.  In recent years, many of the medical/pharmaceutical injury cases have been in an MDL, other examples include the Deepwater Horizon incident and subsequent oil spill, and the DePuy ASR Hip Replacement Devices.

Most mass torts are consolidated in federal court through Multidistrict Litigation (MDL). During the course of the case, the parties will conduct discovery, which is a process lawyers and the parties exchange information pertaining to the lawsuit.  This information can consist of the production of thousands upon thousands of records, and the taking of several sworn depositions.  Oftentimes, discovery is timely and expensive, thus, it makes a great deal of sense to join these multiple individual lawsuits.

At the end of the case discovery and the pre-trial proceedings, the individual claims or lawsuits are sent back to the jurisdictions in which they were filed for trial.  This allows for each client’s individuals to be addressed while still enjoying the many benefits of sharing in discovery and resources involved in the MDL case.

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