Explanation of Class Action and Mass Tort
You may have heard of class action lawsuits. Personal Injury firms are hired to fight these cases when a group of people suffers harm or injury and all are filing suit as one. Typically it is a business that is held accountable in a class action or tort case.
So what is the difference between a class action and class tort case?
A class action lawsuit involves a group of people who share similar damages that were caused by an organization / a company. Although a class action injury case represents any number of people, from a few to thousands, it can be initiated by one person. In some cases, there may be a minimum number of people required before the case is deemed a class action. The purpose of this type of lawsuit is to minimize the number of court cases that occur when more than one person is harmed by the same cause. Imagine a few thousand people having their own individual case against a company that released poisonous gases into their community, for example. It would take forever to have these cases completed.
Most action cases are filed for compensatory damages. If the named plaintiff is successful in proving their case, then all members will receive their portion of the compensation – this amount is known as the recovery. There are at times cases where a company is found to be at fault for causing damages but is underinsured or for other reasons is unable to afford to pay the compensation awarded to victims, so there is no guarantee that the plaintiffs will get all of their recovery amounts. Class actions also resolve disputes as to how the funds will be distributed. However, an action case may not only be about the money.
There is another form of resolution in a group case like this, which is something called injunctive relief. This prohibits an action from continuing if it is found to be harmful. Relief is typically granted in a hearing, but it can be a part of a lawsuit or contract performance. For example, the plaintiff can request an order for government authorities to discontinue an unconstitutional practice that was initially approved. Injunctive relief means a group “won” by eliminating the hurtful act or condition.
We mentioned that there can be a few to thousands of people involved in a class action, so how does someone join the group of plaintiffs?
Before a court certifies a class action, it must agree that are there are too many plaintiffs involved to be named as individual parties in a lawsuit. It is interesting to note that most class action cases are “opt-out,” meaning that a person who does not wish to be involved in litigation must take the initiative to be removed as a class member. Otherwise, as a member of a certain group of customers or residents, for example, you automatically are part of the lawsuit. In rare situations, an action case is “opt-in,” which requires a completed form for joining the case. You may have gotten one of these forms in the mail in your lifetime, and wondered what it was about. If one class member wants to participate in the suit as a named party, he or she must hire a lawyer to independently form a group and then identify others to join the suit.
Class action cases are designed to reduce the number of similar/same cases clogging up the court system, while a mass tort typically covers a broader range of losses among the plaintiffs. Mass tort lawsuits are a special type of class action suit, in which damages and compensation would vary among the group or “class” members. Since most tort cases involve defective products or toxins, the class members rarely share the same harmful side effects or injuries. In other words, damages change from person to person.
The definition of “tort” is a case in which the plaintiff (group) is injured by a defective product, hazardous substance, or disaster due to misconduct from a company. AND the defendant must be under a legal duty to act in a certain way and have failed to perform the act properly, due to their negligence or poor behavior (wrongdoing). The attorneys for the plaintiffs have to prove that the plaintiffs suffered injury or loss from the defendant’s wrongdoing or negligence.
Torts deal with wrongs done to each individual in a class action group, while class actions deal with crimes against society – one crime that affected everyone in the same way. As you can imagine, class action and mass tort cases are very complicated, so there is typically a team of several lawyers working the case on either side. Note that compensation and settlements are more difficult to acquire from a tort due to the multitude of claims, so it takes a skilled legal team experienced in class actions.
If you believe you and others have been harmed by a business, company, or organization, you can contact our personal injury law firm for a free consultation.