Mass Tort Litigation
What is the difference between a Class Action and a Mass Tort?
Most people have heard of a class action but are less familiar with the term “mass tort.” While both types of lawsuits serve the similar purpose to decrease the number of court cases in the system, they have differences. Mass torts are a type of lawsuit where numerous individuals share similar damages or injuries, but the outcomes are individualized to the severity of harm caused. For example, a harmful drug could cause varying harmful side effects and therefore a mass tort would seek compensation separately. Someone who went into organ failure has a different suit than someone who suffered a headache. A class action is therefore a type of mass tort, but not vice versa. Compensation in a class action is divided equally amongst the class.
Another major difference between the two is that a class action is usually filed by a individual, a handful, or numerous individuals, who are representing a larger class. They do not need to name every person involved because those people who filed are representing the named class and the class’ best interest. On the other hand, a mass tort usually names the individuals in the class. An example of such would be the Mark Rypien et al v. NFL lawsuit. In this suit the plaintiffs alleged that they were all football players in the NFL, they all received a concussion, and they all currently suffer from cognitive impairment (i.e. memory loss, dementia, headaches, etc.). They all claim that the NFL concealed the truth about the long-term effects of concussions from them.
Quick ways to differentiate the two:
- If the complaint names several plaintiffs, it is likely a mass tort.
- If you can find the word “joinder” and Rule 20(a), it is a mass tort.
- If the complaint names only a few plaintiffs but the complaint states “Class Action,” then it is a class action.
- If you see Rule 23, and a Class definition, then it is a class action.
Remember a class action is a type of mass tort, however a mass tort is not the same as a class action!