Knowing the difference between class action and mass tort lawsuits is essential to understanding what type of lawsuit applies to you and how you may be compensated. For those not in the legal field, distinguishing between these two may be difficult because they do share some common procedural similarities. These two types of procedural actions both involve:
- A large group of plaintiffs that have been allegedly harmed in some way
- Defendant or defendants that have allegedly caused that harm
- A lawsuit that is consolidated into one action
While sharing common procedural actions and providing similar judicial relief, the main differences come from how the plaintiffs are treated in these procedures.
A class action lawsuit is one that is filed on behalf of an entire group of people, so they are treated as one plaintiff, not separately. A representative of the plaintiff, in this case, will sue on behalf of the entire class. Once the representative is permitted to proceed, the class is “certified” to move forward with the lawsuit. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state that the requirements for a class action are:
- the class is so numerous that joinder, or the action of bringing all parties together, is impractical
- there are questions of law or fact common to the class
- the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
- the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class
In contrast, individual claims that involve the same product or defect that are not allowed to be processed at class action are referred to as mass tort claims. Mass tort lawsuits allow for individual claims to be bundled together for pre-trial proceedings to save time and money. However, although part of a larger group, each plaintiff is treated as an individual and sues the defendant(s) separately in individual lawsuits. In these instances, each plaintiff will have to prove with facts in a court of law how he or she was damaged by the actions of the defendant.
Mass tort litigations can happen in multiple ways:
- Individual plaintiffs allege injury as a result of exposure to a specific type of product
- Several plaintiffs join and allege similar injuries from exposure to a product or harmful substance
- Suits are brought by multiple plaintiffs which stem from the result of a specific event
While both class action and mass tort deal with multiple victims of harm resulting from the negligence of another, the key difference is how plaintiffs are treated as either part of a larger group in class action lawsuits or as individual plaintiffs within a group in mass torts.