What Are Mass Torts and Class Action Lawsuits?
Anyone can file a lawsuit. To do so, a person files a complaint in court. They allege someone else – a person or company – hurt them in some way. They assert legal claims such as negligence or unfair business practices. In some cases, there are many people who suffered similar injuries and damages from the same defendant.
In such cases, people have a few choices. They can file individual lawsuits and go at it alone. They can file individual lawsuits and then combine or consolidate them together. That happens a lot with mass torts – cases involving large numbers of people injured by the same product, person, or conduct.
Mass torts cases get consolidated in state or federal court. In federal court, there is a special process through a Court called the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. That Court forms multidistrict litigations, or MDLs. “The job of the Panel is to 1) determine whether civil actions pending in different federal districts involve one or more common questions of fact such that the actions should be transferred to one federal district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings; and 2) select the judge or judges and court assigned to conduct such proceedings.”
Another options is to combining claims into a class action lawsuit. This is a particularly good option where there are smaller value claims where the cost of bringing one lawsuit outweighs the benefits. Sometimes businesses deceive consumers and the damages per individual are too small to justify individual lawsuits because of the costs involved – filing fees, experts, discovery, trial. Attorneys may not take the case on a contingency basis and their hourly fees would be too expensive to justify the lawsuit. A class action provides a necessary mechanism to hold the person responsible.
Mass torts and class actions are more efficient than litigating each lawsuit individually. In a mass tort, plaintiffs file individual lawsuits. They provide some initial discovery, usually plaintiff profile forms and/or fact sheets. A group of attorneys litigate common issues like the defendants’ liability and causation – proving the product at issue can cause certain injuries through experts and other scientific evidence. There are initial trials, called bellwether trials, that hope to resolve the rest of the cases by informing the parties about how a judge and jury is likely to respond to the evidence. They often settle through global or group settlements whereby people receive an offer for being in a specific category that is usually based on the relationship between the product and their medical history. They can reject it and continue in litigation to trial.
In a class action, an attorney or group of attorneys represent a class representative, a person who stands in the shoes of all the other similarly situated people, called class members. Only that person files a lawsuit. They litigate the case and negotiate settlements with the defendants. Class members then opt-in or opt-out of the proposed settlement. They never participate in the litigation and are not part of the settlement decision. They simply get to accept it or reject it.
These kinds of lawsuits require knowledgeable, experienced lawyers. The lawyers at KBA are mass tort lawyers and have handled several class action suits.
Some Potential Benefits of Mass Torts or Class Action Lawsuits
Mass torts and class actions can be more efficient (quicker) and cost-effective than individual lawsuits. They also help ensure people from across the country receive similar outcomes.
Plaintiffs can benefit because the cost to litigate the lawsuit may be shared among multiple plaintiffs. In other words, that $100,000 bill from an expert gets spread across 10 cases instead of each individual having to pay. Lower litigation costs make it more feasible and affordable for plaintiffs who are financially struggling with medical bills or lost wages caused by the lawsuit.
These cases are often managed on a contingency fee basis, so plaintiffs are not required to pay legal fees unless they recover. Additionally, some cases allow plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees, so those costs are paid by the defendants as opposed to coming from the Plaintiff’s recovery, or a mix of both.
Uniformity Among Plaintiffs
These lawsuits generally consist of one action before one judge. This means that the Court’s decisions will be consistent among each of the plaintiffs. Settlements are generally uniform as well. Some mass torts get remanded (sent back) to the plaintiff’s home court, but the issues all the cases had in common should be resolved by then so there is still some uniformity.
Higher Chance of Reward for All Plaintiffs
If lawsuits are filed separately, the plaintiffs who filed first may be the only ones to receive compensation if the defendant runs out of money to pay all the plaintiffs and goes bankrupt. Class action lawsuits can allow plaintiffs to receive compensation at the same time. Additionally, by pooling their resources, plaintiffs can often mount a better offense.
Consumers or employees may have an opportunity to pursue legal action if their individual losses are smaller and not worth a large amount of money, even though they have been wronged and the defendant is worthy of being held accountable. Sometimes the wrongdoing is more important than the amount of any individual claim. Nonetheless, sometimes an individual case is simply too expensive to bring, but the lower litigation costs associated with a class action lawsuits can allow plaintiffs to seek justice that would not have been financially prudent with an individual lawsuit.
These lawsuits also benefit the Courts because only one judge is needed to handle what can amount to hundreds or even thousands of claims. Individual suits would clog dockets across the country and detract from other important cases.
Types of Mass Torts and Class Action Lawsuits
Class action lawsuits can be associated with several common categories. Some of these categories include:
- Consumer Fraud
- Employment Law
- Defective Products
- Defective Medical Devices
- Securities Fraud
- Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Violations
The mass tort/class action attorneys at KBA have handled mass tort trials and class action lawsuits. Each case is different and past results do not predict future results – anything can happen; nonetheless, KBA’s attorneys have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars over the years fighting through mass torts, class actions, and individual lawsuits.
Requirements for a Class Action Lawsuit
State and federal courts each have their own rules for filing a class action lawsuit. These rules are requirements that judges must follow when approving a class action case. Generally, courts require that:
- They can view the circumstances of the case and certify that the class action is beneficial to the administration of justice.
- There must be a reasonable number of plaintiffs involved with the case
- All plaintiffs must have similar claims against the same defendant
- The lead plaintiff, or class representative, must have a typical case and be certified by the court.
- The class action case must be able to represent the needs of all the members of the class.
- Class members reserve the right to decline participation in the case and are also able to pursue a separate lawsuit.
In federal court, the requirements are found in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It states as follows:
(a) Prerequisites. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all members only if:
(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
If the lawyers can satisfy those requirements, a class action may be maintained if:
(1) prosecuting separate actions by or against individual class members would create a risk of:
(A) inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual class members that would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class; or
(B) adjudications with respect to individual class members that, as a practical matter, would be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the individual adjudications or would substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests;
(2) the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole; or
(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy. The matters pertinent to these findings include:
(A) the class members’ interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions;
(B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by or against class members;
(C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; and
(D) the likely difficulties in managing a class action.
- FindLaw. “Class Action Cases”, FindLaw, https://litigation.findlaw.com/legal-system/class-action-cases.html. Accessed April 5, 2019.
- Legal Information Institute. “Class Action”, Cornell Law School, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/class_action. Accessed April 5, 2019.
- FreeAdvice staff. “Class Action Lawsuits: What They Are and How They Work”, FreeAdvice, https://law.freeadvice.com/litigation/class_actions/class-action-lawsuit.htm. Accessed April 5, 2019.