Class Action vs. Mass Tort: What is the difference and how does it affect my case?

Attorney Eric Hageman explains how class actions rarely apply to injury claims.

Definition of Class Action vs. Mass Tort

Most people understand that a class action is one in which individual claims have so many common issues that they are joined together in one large case. The outcome in that large case decides the individual claims; unless a claimant opts out of the process he/she is bound by the overall settlement (or verdict if the case goes to trial).

However, and contrary to the belief of most people, class actions rarely apply to injury claims. That’s because injury claims usually have enough “individual” (specific to a particular case) issues not shared by the other claims.  For example, in most injury claims, the amount of money to which a claimant is entitled varies widely based on age, level of disability, wage loss, medical expenses, etc. Those differences, plus many others, account for the difficulty in getting a class of injury claims certified as a class action.

Mass Tort Process

Individual claims involving the same product or defect which are not allowed to proceed as a class action are referred to as mass tort claims. These are individual claims bundled together for pre-trial proceedings in order to save time and money. This is either done in state court by consolidating the cases or in federal court through Multidistrict Litigation (MDL). At the end of the pre-trial proceedings, the individual claims are sent back to the jurisdictions in which they were filed for trial.

Pre-trial proceedings consist primarily of something called “discovery” – the process by which lawyers exchange information. This information consists of production of thousands or millions of pages of documents, electronic records and depositions (questioning witnesses under oath). In MDL cases, this is often a mammoth undertaking. Thus, it makes a great deal of sense to join the cases together for discovery (in which the issues are common to all cases), but split them apart again for final resolution (to account for the differences between each individual case).

MDL cases are common when a single product (e.g. drug or medical device) causes injury to many people.

Multidistrict Litigation and the Attorney’s Role

If your case becomes part of an MDL, our role as your attorney will remain the same. We will provide you with the same personal attention that all our clients expect and receive from our firm. That means we will have frequent contact with you, all of the information from and about you will be held in the strictest confidence (and not shared with any other client) and no decision regarding the outcome of your case will be made without your permission.

MDL proceedings often lead to settlement negotiations involving all or most of the individual claims. If such negotiations lead to an aggregate settlement offer involving your case, we will provide you with detailed information in writing about the existence and nature of the claims and settlement terms so you can decide if you wish to participate in it. If you choose not to do so, you can opt out of the negotiations and proceed to the trial of your individual case. Of course, there are risks inherent in opting out and taking a case to trial and we will explain those to you as well.

Our law firm has earned a reputation for success in product liability claims involving drugs, medical devices and other mass tort claims. You can contact our attorneys for a free consultation here. For a free telephone consultation about your case, please call us toll free at 1-888-377-8900.

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Category: Product Liability
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