Mass torts are lawsuits filed by groups of individuals with similar cases. These cases most often address the damages caused by defective products or toxic exposure. Notable mass torts have helped people recover from the damage caused by asbestos, tobacco, airplane crashes, the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina.
As the American Bar Association notes, the history of mass torts is nearly as much about procedure as about the cases themselves. The result is that they offer some important advantages and disadvantages to potential plaintiffs. If you’re looking to file an injury claim, it’s worth understanding these pros and cons. It’s also worth learning how mass torts differ from class-action lawsuits.
Mass torts versus class action lawsuits
Both mass torts and class action lawsuits feature groups of plaintiffs with similar claims against one or more defendants. However, they are decidedly not the same.
Class action lawsuits must follow the standards set by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:
- Too many plaintiffs to make it practical for each to appear in court
- The plaintiffs’ cases all hinge upon shared questions of fact and law
- The class action can feature a limited number of representative cases typical to the whole group
- The representative parties must protect the interests of the whole group
On the other hand, mass torts treat each individual’s claim individually. This means the plaintiffs receive individual awards based on their individual circumstances, not as a share of the whole. In class actions, each plaintiff receives a share of the single verdict or settlement.
7 pros and cons of mass torts
Mass torts offer several advantages for plaintiffs, as well as those within the judicial system:
- Reduced legal costs for individual plaintiffs due to the involvement of multiple plaintiffs
- Fewer judges and attorneys are required to resolve all the individual claims, resulting in greater efficiency for the courts
- Defendants face increased pressure to settle, often lowering the demand for proof and the risks associated with going to trial
- Individual plaintiffs receive more power during settlement negotiations versus class action lawsuits
Depending on your concerns about your case, though, you want to understand the potential setbacks:
- Reduced visibility and input during certain parts of the case
- Increased complexity may lead to extended litigation time
- Many attorneys may not have the experience to handle such complicated proceedings or may make decisions that benefit them more than their clients
Mass torts can make a real difference
People thinking about joining a mass tort will want to carefully review the pros and cons, especially those that reinforce the importance of working with a reliable attorney. However, it is worth noting that mass torts have led to some real, world-changing justice.
Many have called the 1980s the era of mass torts. We saw mass torts place incredible pressure on tobacco companies and the manufacturers who continued to use asbestos well after they understood the risks. As a result, we saw huge changes within the tobacco industry, and hundreds of companies filed for bankruptcy after courts held them accountable for exposing people to asbestos.
Accordingly, whether to pursue your case individually or as part of a mass tort may depend on your goals. You’ll want to weigh the procedural advantages and disadvantages of mass torts along with their ability to spur real justice.