3 Key Differences Between Mass Tort and Class Action Cases

November 3, 2023 @ 6:18 pm

Corporations continue to grow ever-larger, more impersonal and more profit-focused. The result is that one flaw, mistake or bad decision can harm thousands or even millions of people. Yet, those people may not realize that their injury entitles them to compensation they could pursue through either a mass tort case or a class action case. 

While both terms are frequently used in these situations, the differences between mass tort and class action cases can make one more appropriate than the other—depending on your circumstances.

What Is a Class Action Case?

Class action suits provide a way for a large group of individuals who suffered harm to file a personal injury case against the party responsible for that harm without flooding the court system with hundreds, thousands or even millions of individual cases. Instead, all of the people who suffered harm are grouped as a class and represented together by a lead plaintiff or plaintiffs in one class action case.

The basic premise of class action suits is that since all members of the group or class suffered similar harm in the same way and to the same degree, any compensation is distributed equally to all members of the class action suit. This is an important distinction because the attorneys filing a class action case will usually contact people who are likely to have been impacted and fit the class description. People affected typically have the choice of opting in, opting out or doing nothing.

  • If you opt in: You become part of the class action suit’s group or class of plaintiffs. In joining, you agree to abide by the results of the class action case and waive your ability to lodge any independent claims beyond the class action suit.
  • If you do nothing: In most cases, you’ll automatically become part of the class action suit’s group or class of plaintiffs. Doing nothing often equates to opting in.
  • If you opt out: If you don’t wish to be treated in the same way as the other members of the class action group, you must opt out of the class action case. While opting out denies you any compensation resulting from the class action case, it preserves your option to pursue individual compensation through venues other than the class action suit.

Opting out of a class action suit may be an appropriate choice if the harm you suffered exceeds or differs from the criteria established for the class action suit. For example, you may have suffered more extensive damages or have more at stake than what a class action suit addresses.

What Is a Mass Tort Case?

Like class action cases, mass tort cases provide a way for a group of people who suffered harm to file a personal injury case against a common party responsible for that harm. However, mass tort cases give people who suffered different types and degrees of harm a common venue to pursue compensation appropriate to their particular injury.

Although all of the plaintiffs have suffered harm due to the fault of a common defendant, each plaintiff’s injuries are unique and deserving of individual consideration and compensation appropriate to the harm done to that particular person. Because each person’s injury or harm suffered is different, no one person’s set of circumstances can adequately represent what happened to the others, so the plaintiffs really don’t qualify as a class. Instead, each victim’s set of circumstances, injuries and compensation are reviewed and determined on an individual basis under the umbrella of precedents established in the mass tort case.

Unlike a class action case, plaintiffs in a mass tort case who may be eligible for compensation are not automatically included as a plaintiff. To receive compensation for your injuries, you must file a claim under the mass tort case proving the facts of your case, the fault of the defendant in causing your injuries and the right to compensation for those injuries.

Mass Tort Versus Class Action Cases

Much of the confusion about mass tort versus class action cases comes from the fact that they are both ways for groups of people to seek compensation from a common large entity that caused them harm. And furthermore, both offer ways of streamlining litigation. Their differences, however, are significant enough to impact anyone’s decision in joining:

  • The Plaintiffs: A Class vs. A Unique Group of Individuals
    In class action cases, a lead plaintiff serves as a representative of the class action member plaintiffs. For a class action case to be successful, the lead plaintiff or plaintiffs must present a strong case that accurately represents and reflects the plaintiff membership.

    In mass tort cases, each plaintiff has the opportunity to present their own set of circumstances, claims and needs for compensation.
  • The Claim: Specific and Restrictive vs. General and Individualized
    Class action cases must meet certain specific criteria to be certified as a class action suit. One of the key elements is that the claim of the lead plaintiff must match those of the class membership. Even more specific, the claim must demonstrate that the defendant engaged in a specific act or pattern of conduct that affected all plaintiffs similarly.

    On the other hand, mass tort cases allow each plaintiff to demonstrate how the defendant caused their specific injuries. While each plaintiff must prove that the defendant was at fault, the criteria for doing so acknowledges individual differences in circumstances and how injuries occurred.
  • The Compensation: Same for All vs. Tailored to Circumstances
    In class action cases, compensation is determined for the lead plaintiff and uniformly applied to everyone in the plaintiff membership.

    In mass tort cases, compensation is determined individually for each plaintiff to correspond to their type and degree of injury.

A way of thinking about the differences between class action and mass tort cases is that class action cases tend to be cookie-cutter-type cases. One plaintiff who is just like all the others in their class must prove that the defendant did a particular harmful thing. If the lead plaintiff is successful, all the other plaintiffs get the same compensation. If the lead plaintiff is not successful, the other plaintiffs get nothing.

In contrast, mass tort cases open a venue for proving not only that a defendant did something wrong to many people but also that the harm done had the potential to take many different forms. Plaintiffs need don’t need to conform to a cookie-cutter template. Instead, they can present their claim to be evaluated for its individual worth.

Build Your Case with MMRBH

When a company or large organization has wronged many people, legal action is often your only option if you are one of their victims. Harm can take many different forms—from unfair or just downright wrong work practices or policies that have left you behind to exposure to toxic substances or faulty equipment that has cost you your health, your living or even your independence. 

The personal injury lawyers at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Basset & Haik can help you get the legal support you need. Should you join a class action suit or start one? Do you have a situation that should be part of a mass tort case? Reach out today for your free consultation, and find the best path for you.



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