Sometimes, scale makes all the difference. When a pharmaceutical company releases a toxic drug, or an oil company spills its product all over your local harbor, what can you do? The situation may seem so large that it extends beyond your reach. One possible answer is the mass tort lawsuit. Ordinary civilians, consumers, and working people have used mass tort litigation to rise up against harm done to entire communities and large numbers of people.
Some of the most influential large-scale legal proceedings in U.S. history have been mass tort cases. Think Agent Orange and Big Tobacco. If you or someone you know has suffered collective harm, you may be able to help participate in a mass tort claim.
We know you may find it difficult to navigate through all the legal jargon, and we are here to walk you through every step of the process. Here are our answers to top questions about mass tort:
What is a Mass Tort?
As we state on our website, a mass tort is a “negligent or wrongful act that injures many people at one time.” The people who suffer due to the mass tort can then participate in a mass tort claim.
Because a mass tort lawsuit involves several plaintiffs, it often stretches across district lines. In this way, mass tort proceedings are like a group of related cases, rather than a single case.
Who Should Consider Filing a Mass Tort Claim?
You do not have to be a high-powered executive or legal expert to participate in a mass tort claim. Many of the plaintiffs in these cases are everyday people, as consumers of a product that turned out to be defective. Others are victims of large industries like Big Tobacco.
The key to a successful mass tort case is a reliable, experienced legal team. Talk to your team to see if your situation is appropriate for mass tort litigation. If the complaint you have is against a large company, there might even be ongoing mass tort proceedings to join.
Mass tort claims are an excellent way to use community power to put pressure on large corporations. If it were just you against them, your odds might be shakier. As part of a collective mass tort, though, you might have a better chance of getting your voice heard.
Large companies often have their own powerful legal teams. You can match or surpass this legal power through the momentum of related cases in mass tort litigation. When you are part of a collective movement, you still have to provide your own evidence, but the context can help support your claim.
Is Mass Tort the Same Thing As Class Action?
The simple answer is no. Though a group of mass tort lawsuits is similar to a single class-action lawsuit, they are not the same thing.
The main difference is the burden of proof on individual victims. The individuals involved in a mass tort are separate plaintiffs, while the victims in a class-action lawsuit are a ‘class,’ with one member acting as a class representative.
There are some similarities that bring mass tort and class action lawsuits together. For example, both are for civil offenses rather than criminal ones. And both involve a large number of people who have suffered harm.
A mass tort action can become a class-action lawsuit, but at its start, it consists of separate lawsuits.
What Are Some Common Types of Mass Tort Claims?
The separate plaintiffs of a mass tort lawsuit can come from a wide range of fields and backgrounds. They work together in a mass tort case so they can pool resources and consolidate their legal power. Here are some common types of mass tort claims:
1. Consumer Product Claims
One of the most common instances of a mass tort claim is a claim that people in public can file for a defective product. This is a clear example of something that can hurt many people at once. When a commercially available item malfunctions or otherwise causes harm, mass tort is a way for consumers to fight back.
2. Pharmaceutical Claims
A similar example is pharmaceutical mass tort. If a drug goes through a manufacturer’s recall or creates harmful consequences without proper warning, the victims can put together a mass tort claim against the pharmaceutical manufacturer. Some of these cases involve birth defects of wrongful death.
3. Environmental Tort Claims
Mass torts can also cover environmental issues. When a company or individual does harm to the surrounding environment, many people can suffer the damage at once.
You might be surprised by how far-reaching some of the negative effects can be. For example, an oil spill does more than destroy wildlife and harm the health of local people. In addition to these direct outcomes, an environmental disaster like this can hurt the local tourism industry.
What Are Some Famous Examples of Mass Tort Cases?
When it comes to large-scale products and substances, mass tort litigation can go on for years and even decades. It can end up making a big difference in public perception of a toxic substance.
Mass tort does not exist in a vacuum—it is part of the larger social ecosystem of change. Here are some examples of when this happened in U.S. legal history:
1. Agent Orange
Do you remember Agent Orange? This was the toxic chemical used during the Vietnam War that caused massive health damage to Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, as well as U.S. soldiers and their families.
The U.S. veterans put together a mass tort and filed a claim against the Agent Orange manufacturers to receive assistance with medical bills and to demand a response for their suffering.
Agent Orange was developed and marketed as a herbicide. It included the chemical dioxin, which disrupts hormones and causes cancer, but the manufacturers did not provide a warning about this when it was sold. People who were exposed to Agent Orange, including U.S. soldiers, only knew about its toxicity to humans later on.
U.S. soldiers sprayed Agent Orange on vegetation in Vietnam in order to destroy cover and kill food sources. What they did not realize at the time was that human exposure to Agent Orange would go on to cause cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and congenital heart disease in the children of those exposed.
In the end, these lawsuits distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the plaintiffs.
2. Big Tobacco
Another well-known example of mass tort litigation was the legal battle against the tobacco industry in the United States in the 1980s.
This was more than just a statement against Big Tobacco. According to the chair of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at the Northeastern University School of Law, “hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved.”
When you think of large numbers of people suffering health damages due to a single cause, you may think of asbestos. This is because the litigation has been going on for over half a century.
In this case, the numbers are high for both plaintiffs and defendants. In 2002, about 8,400 business entities faced mass tort litigation for asbestos poisoning, and the numbers keep rising.
Before people knew much about the toxicity of asbestos, workers used this material on job sites. Later on, they found out that exposure to asbestos could cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. The victims and families of victims fought back with the legal power of mass tort claims.
These days, much of the asbestos that companies incorporated into mining, manufacturing, and roofing is no longer actively used. The long-term effects that they caused, however, are still popping up. In addition, asbestos still shows up here and there, like in baby powder in 2018.
What Are the Recoverable Damages in a Mass Tort Case?
You may be wondering what kinds of things you can ask to be compensated for as a plaintiff of a mass tort lawsuit.
If you have suffered an injury because you used a defective product or harmful medicine, your recoverable damages might include the cost of medical bills. These direct things come with clear dollar charges, but other types of recoverable damages are more indirect.
For the same injury, you might also be able to ask for repayment for lost wages. This is an important thing to know if your injury has caused you to lose your job or miss days of work. If an injury has damaged your future job prospects, you can request repayment for loss of future earnings.
Then there are the less concrete, but still very real, recoverable damages. These include pain and suffering, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life. If you think these recoverable damages may apply to you, you can talk to your lawyer to discuss your options.
For a Collective Act of Resistance, Consider Mass Tort Litigation
A mass tort case is a way for plaintiffs to band together to take on a powerful defendant. When damages are far-reaching, a collective effort to fight back can be a powerful and effective tool.
In order to win a mass tort case, you should hire an experienced lawyer or legal team. Make sure you read what previous clients have to say, and check whether the firm has experience with mass tort proceedings. You will want to make sure you have lawyers who are truly on your side.
And if you think you may have the grounds to file a mass tort claim, send our lawyers a message today to get a free case evaluation.