How Do Mass Torts Differ From Class Actions?

Most people are familiar with the concept of a class action lawsuit. These kinds of lawsuits make the front page when they end with large settlements or jury awards.

Mass torts, though similar, aren’t as well-known among the general public. But the distinction between the two forms of litigation could be critical if you’re considering taking legal action against a company. How do mass torts differ from class actions?

Both mass torts and class action lawsuits involve multiple plaintiffs suing a single entity (usually a business or company). However, they differ in one significant respect: In a class action lawsuit, all of the plaintiffs in the class are represented collectively by an attorney or group of attorneys, while in a mass tort, each plaintiff is represented separately.

Both approaches come with advantages and disadvantages. An experienced attorney can explain how each option is likely to benefit you and advise you on which to choose when both are available.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between mass torts and class action lawsuits, contact Morgan & Morgan to schedule a free case evaluation.

What are Differences in Mass Torts vs. Class Action Lawsuits?

As mentioned, the core difference between a mass tort and a class action lawsuit comes down to whether plaintiffs are represented individually or separately. But that one difference can lead to many other differences.

When an attorney files a class action lawsuit, they must define the members of the litigating class, and that class must be certified by the court. Each potential member must be notified about the lawsuit and given a chance to opt out if desired. Those who don’t are bound by the results and lose the right to file an independent suit later on.

There is no larger class defined in a mass tort. This allows individuals with similar grievances but unique circumstances to participate in the same trial. 

Additionally, individuals who are not represented at the trial don’t need to signal their intention to opt out. They simply aren’t considered part of the proceedings and are thus unaffected by the trial’s outcome.

Individuals in a mass tort are also free to opt out at any time. This is a major difference from a class action lawsuit, where members must opt out before the trial begins. Once it has, they’re locked into the suit and forfeit the right to change their minds.

How Are Damages Awarded in Both Types of Civil Action?

In a class action lawsuit, the method for awarding damages is determined at the same time the class is defined.

The method must be approved by a judge and usually calls for greater compensation for those who can show they suffered greater harm. 

When the jury assigns an award (or a settlement is reached), the sum is distributed as dictated by the method previously outlined. Class members have no grounds to dispute this result if they choose not to opt out of the lawsuit.

In a mass tort, every plaintiff fights for an individual award based on the merits of their case. This usually results in more significant damages but also comes with the risk of receiving no award if the case goes poorly.

It’s possible that every other plaintiff in the suit could win damages and you could win nothing if your lawyer makes a mistake or the evidence turns against you. By contrast, the members of a class action lawsuit rarely face such risks.

Can I Be Forced to Join a Class Action Lawsuit?

No. You always have the right to file a lawsuit on your own. But a class action lawsuit will likely take priority over individual lawsuits, as it could involve hundreds or thousands of people. Consequently, the defendant could be bankrupted by the class action lawsuit, rendering your independent lawsuit futile.

What Factor Most Influences Class Action or Mass Tort?

Numerosity, or the number of plaintiffs involved, is the factor that usually determines whether a case is filed as a class action suit or mass tort. If there are so many people involved in a claim that it becomes impractical for every plaintiff to be represented separately, the case will usually be reframed as a class action lawsuit.

This strategy increases the probability that each injured party will receive some compensation, even if the defendant doesn’t have the resources to pay all the claims in full. If the case ends up as a mass tort, many of the plaintiffs likely won’t get anything.

Morgan & Morgan Make Weighing Your Options Easy

If you’ve been harmed by another party’s actions or negligence, you may be entitled to financial compensation. 

The process is relatively simple if you’re the only person affected: You file a lawsuit, which ends in either a settlement or a court decision. But things get more complicated when multiple people have all been injured in similar ways by the same party.

Under these circumstances, you have more than one option for how to approach your case. You could join a class action lawsuit, file a mass tort suit, or pursue an individual lawsuit. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly or without the help of an experienced attorney.

Get in touch with the seasoned legal team at Morgan and Morgan to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more about your options for seeking compensation individually or as part of a group.