The term “mass tort” defines a specific type of civil lawsuit in which a “tort,” a wrongful act that causes injury, has affected masses of people. Class action lawsuits also involve many people; however, mass tort differs from a class-action lawsuit in a number of specific ways. In our Fort Lauderdale office, we can help you understand what it means to participate in a mass tort lawsuit given your injury.
Difference between Class Action and Mass Tort lawsuits
A class-action lawsuit involves a large number of individuals who have experienced similar harm from a product or event and for whom fair compensation is not large enough to justify separate cases. A class-action lawsuit is a single suit with many plaintiffs who will share in the distribution of any settlement or awards. One law firm represents all injured parties and argues for them as one entity. For instance, in 2017, Visa and Mastercard settled a lawsuit for overcharging fees to retailers. They settled for $7.5 billion, with each retailer receiving a small portion of the settlement due to the sheer number of plaintiffs. Many other class-action lawsuits have been filed for defective products and wrongful acts due to corporate negligence.
A mass tort also involves a large number of individuals who have suffered harm from corporate negligence or misconduct, but the harm varies in severity and often involves significant financial expenses, particularly medical expenses and lost wages. Therefore, in mass tort, lawsuits are pursued by individuals with their own lawyers.
Examples of Mass Tort Lawsuits
Mass tort lawsuits commonly include defective medical products and automobile parts, oil spills, water or soil pollution, pesticides, and mass disasters, such as airplane crashes and coal and oil refinery accidents.
A recent example of a mass tort lawsuit that is currently being litigated is regarding Zantac (brand name of ranitidine), which was recently discovered by an independent laboratory to contain high levels of the carcinogen NDMA. In September 2019, the FDA issued a public safety warning about possible cancer risk in ranitidine, and in April 2020 ordered the drug to be removed from the market. Subsequently, many individual lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers for harm caused by the popular antacid.
Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder product, known as “Johnson’s baby powder,” isn’t just used on babies. Recently it has been discovered that the talc causes ovarian cancer in women who use it for hygiene, and J&J is accused of having known about the possible link between talc and ovarian cancer for years. Many individual lawsuits are being filed.
Steps of Mass Tort Lawsuit
Often the first thing that must occur is a discovery of wrongdoing or injury by a company or a product, as we see in the examples of ranitidine and talcum powder. This opens up the opportunity for injured parties to organize a class-action lawsuit, in the case of many small injuries, or mass tort, in the case of significant and varied injuries, such as cancer.
A mass tort lawsuit is similar to most other personal injury lawsuits in that the first stage is to file the lawsuit in court. You will have to demonstrate that you have been injured by the product or misconduct and that you are owed compensation for your injuries. Often the defendants (the company) will settle out of court. If not, the next step is to go to discovery, at which point both sides interview or review each other’s records and develop their own cases further or move to settle out of court.
If the case goes to trial, the company risks not only having to pay compensation but also being levied compensatory fines, if the court finds that they acted in bad faith. The companies are at a disadvantage; a jury needs only to decide based on a “preponderance of evidence” and not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a much lower threshold and therefore the advantage is to the injured party. This is yet another reason why companies prefer to settle out of court.
Finding the Right Attorney
If you have been injured by corporate negligence, you need an attorney who is an expert in personal injury and mass tort and who has the reputation for fighting and winning. Insurance companies and big business can afford to hire teams of lawyers; you need someone who will fight for you. I specialize in personal injury cases, because I believe in justice, “fighting for the little guy” and balancing the playing field. I have a track record of winning significant awards for my clients. Call me today for a free consultation.