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Class Action vs Mass Tort: What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between a class action and mass tort?

Many people are familiar with class action lawsuits, but aren’t as knowledgeable about the differences when compared to mass tort cases. Essentially, these two terms refer to cases that involve a large group of people who have experienced the same or similar injuries, damages, or negative circumstances brought upon by the conduct of the same defendant. The purpose of this type of action is to reduce the number of individual court cases. For instance, if a particular company has been accused of wrongdoing by multiple customers the individual customers are consolidated into a single class representing all plaintiffs involved. The same would apply if a group of employees have the same complaints of mistreatment against the same employer. Although the intention of both class action and mass tort cases is basically the same, the two types of lawsuits are conducted differently.

The key and simplified difference between mass tort and class action cases is in the complaints and the similarities they share. In class action lawsuits, the plaintiffs must share a common complaint. In mass tort cases, the injuries may vary. Often, mass tort cases involve defective drugs or products. For this reason, the injuries or side-effects are individualized and vary case-by-case. Although there are more legal details involved, the prime difference between mass tort and class action is in the similarity of characteristics within the case and the requirements of a “class.”

Class Action Lawsuit Details

In a class action lawsuit, one person files and represents a group. The individuals among this group share common damages resulting from the conduct of one company or source. This representative and the class involved must meet specific criteria in order to be approved and move forward as a class action case. Included in these specifications is the number of individuals within the proposed class. This number must be significant enough to prove that individual cases would be unrealistic. Merely a few individuals would not be able to get together and form a “class” for a class action lawsuit. Also, as mentioned briefly above, the individuals within this case must share a common complaint against the defendant. Lastly, in order to be certified as a class action suit, the representative must objectively and effectively defend the interest of all individuals involved in the class.

Mass Tort Details

Mass tort cases on the other hand, although involving a group of individuals against one defendant, should not be considered the same as class action lawsuits. The key difference is that the injuries involved against the defendant are broader. Since mass tort cases usually involve defective drugs and products, the effects are unique to each individual involved. Mass tort cases are much more complex than the often straight forward class action suits. Another major difference is that mass tort cases don’t involve or require certification of the “class,” like they do in class action cases. Therefore, in mass tort cases plaintiffs file their cases individually rather than as a group.