The Difference Between Class Actions and Mass Torts: What You Need to Know

Class action and mass tort lawsuits are two different types of lawsuits people can file when injured or wronged. In this article, we will discuss the characteristics of each and how they differ from one another.
Updated on June 10, 2023

Class Action

Class action lawsuits are common in the employment sector, but we also see them in relation to consumer protection, civil rights, and product defects, among other instances. This section outlines important characteristics of class action lawsuits.

What Does A Class Action Entail?

A class action is a type of lawsuit that involves an individual suing on behalf of a group of people – this individual in called the Class Representative. The Class Representative is responsible for communicating with the court and ensuring that everyone in the group gets their fair share of any damages awarded. For example, employees who were wrongfully fired from their jobs could file a class action lawsuit against their employer. One employee, the Class Representative, would represent all the employees who were impacted by the wrongful firing, so the other employees would not need pursue a lawsuit individually.

Why Does Class Action Happen?

Here are just a few reasons why a group may choose to file a class action lawsuit rather than sue individually:

Collecting evidence
Some individuals may have difficulty collecting evidence. This makes it difficult to prosecute the perpetrator or get restitution for the victims. In a class action, it’s unnecessary to present evidence of harm or wrongdoing for every single individual involved, just the Class Representative.

Sharing costs
The cost of filing a lawsuit individually is steep. Victims involved in a class action can pool their resources and make it more affordable to bring and maintain the lawsuit.

Preventing future harm
There’s strength and influence in large numbers. Class actions can be used to prevent future harm. For example, if a company is caught violating the law, a class action lawsuit could be filed to stop them from doing it again.

Streamlining the legal process
A class action allows for a more efficient legal process, as the court doesn’t have to each case, just the Class Representative. This can save time and money.

Exerting political pressure
A marginalized group can also initiate class action to exert political pressure against the government or a large organization.

Characteristics of Class Action

Class action lawsuits share these characteristics:

A group of people files them
Class actions are filed by groups of people. This could be wrongfully fired employees, consumers who were scammed, or any other group of individuals who have been harmed in the same way by the same bad actor.

The lawsuit benefits everyone in the group
The primary objective of any class action is to attain a mutual benefit for group members. If someone opts out during the lawsuit, they may not benefit in the end.

The case is decided together
The court will hear from all group members at once and make a decision that affects everyone.

How Can Class Actions Be Used?

There are many motivating factors and desired outcomes from a class action, including:

To get restitution for victims
This is the most common use of class actions. The goal is to get the defendant to pay damages to all the group members.

To mitigate and prevent future harm
A class action is an effective way to prevent individuals, corporations, and governments from repeating a crime or violating the law again.

To get information
Class actions can be used to get information from the defendant. This could include documents or depositions that would help prove the case.

To put pressure on the government
Marginalized groups can also use class actions to exert political pressure against the government to advocate for change.

How to File a Class Action

If you’re part of a group who has been harmed by an individual, corporation or government, you may want to file a class action lawsuit. But where to start?

Find other people who want to join the lawsuit
The first step is finding other people who want to join you in the fight. This can be difficult, but there are a few ways to do it:

  • Contact other people who have been harmed by the same thing.
  • Join an online forum or group that is related to your case.
  • Look for lawyers who specialize in class action lawsuits.

Create a legal team
Once you’ve found other people who want to join the lawsuit, you’lll need a legal team of lawyers and other professionals who can help with the case.

File the lawsuit
When you’re ready to file a class action lawsuit, you’ll need to provide all of the information about the case, as well as evidence that supports your claim.

How Do Class Actions Affect Members of a Group?

Members of a successful class action can benefit in a few different ways:

They can get restitution for damages
Of course, financial restitution is the most common benefit of a class action. If a case is successful, the defendant must pay damages to all group members involved.

They can stop future harm
Class action can also be used to prevent future harm. For example, if a company is caught violating the law, a class action can be filed to stop the company from doing it again.

They can change laws
Class actions can also have significant, wide-reaching effects. For example, they can be used to change laws. This is done by getting a court to rule that a law is unconstitutional or unfair. This form of class action is referred to as civil rights class action.

What Are the Risks Involved in Joining a Class Action?

Of course, there are always risks involved when joining a class action. Here are some things to keep in mind:

The case might not be successful
Unfortunately, not every group sees a positive outcome with their class action. If the case is lost, the group members will not receive any payment.

The defendant might not have enough money to pay damages
In some cases, the defendant might not have enough money to pay damages to all the group members. This could mean that people will get little or even no money from the case.

The group members might not get a lawyer
To join a class action, you usually need to hire a lawyer. Not everyone can afford to do this, making the process much more difficult.

How to Initiate and Carry Out a Class Action

Preparation and support go far in building a successful class action. Some tips to get you started:

Keep track of any damages you have suffered
This includes both monetary and non-monetary damages.

Join an online forum or group related to the case
There are often online forums or groups set up for people involved in a class action. These are great resources for finding out more information about the case and its progress.

Hire a lawyer
If you have any questions or concerns, it’s best to talk to a lawyer. They can answer your questions and help you decide if joining a class action is the right choice for you.

How Do You Join a Class Action?

The first step is hiring a lawyer. The lawyer will help you file the necessary paperwork and represent you in court. If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, you might be able to find one who will work for free (pro bono). You can also contact your local legal aid office for more information.

What to Do if a Defendant Retaliates

Class action lawsuits can have significant consequences for defendants, so it’s not unheard of for defendants to react inappropriately. If you are involved in a class action and the defendant starts to retaliate against you, here’s what to do:

Talk to your lawyer
They know the rules to conform to during class actions and are best equipped to advise you on the proper response for your situation.

File a complaint with the court
You can file a complaint with the court if you feel that you are being retaliated against.

Contact the media
The media can help raise awareness about what is happening to you and pressure the defendant to stop retaliating.

Get support from your community
If you feel you’re being treated unfairly, lean on your support system. This can include getting support from friends, family, and other people in your community.

Class actions can be a powerful tool for groups of people who have been harmed. If you think you might have a class action case, contact an attorney to find out more.

Mass Torts

Now that you know a little bit about class actions, let’s talk about mass torts.

What Are Mass Torts?

Like a class action lawsuit, mass torts are a type of lawsuit filed when many people have experienced the same wrong or harm. But unlike class actions, mass tort cases are not grouped together and there is no Class Representative. Each one is evaluated individually, and the compensation will be unique to each person’s situation and damages.

Although the cases are evaluated individually, mass torts are still overseen and administered by a Judge together. This can make the process easier for the plaintiffs and allow them to pool their resources.

The downside is that each case takes longer to resolve, and there is a greater chance the defendant will not have enough money to pay a fair amount to everyone.

Why Do Mass Torts Happen?

There are many reasons why mass torts might happen. Some of the most common include:

Defective products
When a product (consumer product, medical product, or pharmaceutical drug) is defective, it can cause serious injuries to the people who use it. This often leads to mass tort lawsuits.

Mass casualties
When there is a large commercial carrier (plane, train, bus) or building collapse for example, multiple people are harmed in from the same event. This often leads to a mass tort lawsuit.

Characteristics of Mass Torts

Mass tort cases share a few common traits:

The cases involve many people
As the name suggests, mass torts often involve many people – sometimes dozens but more often than not, hundreds or even thousands of injured people.

A mass tort can be filed against numerous defendants
A mass tort can involve one or more defendants, allowing the plaintiffs bring all the responsible parties together to seek recovery from each.

The cases are complex
The cases in a mass tort are often complex and require a lot of time and resources to resolve.

The defendant may have limited funds
Because there are so many cases, the defendant may not have enough funds to cover damages for everyone involved. This can make it difficult for the plaintiffs to receive compensation.

The cases are often tried together
This is a great benefit of mass torts. It can make it easier for the plaintiffs and allows them to pool their resources.

How Can Mass Torts Be Used?

Why would someone decide to file a mass tort?

To get justice for those a company or individual has harmed
This forms the basis of mass torts. When many people have been harmed in similar ways, it can be more effective to file a lawsuit as a group. This allows each case to be evaluated on its own merits while still considering the similarities and differences between cases.

To hold companies and individuals accountable for their actions
When companies or individuals have harmed many people in similar ways, a mass tort makes it difficult for them to avoid responsibility.

To raise awareness about an issue
If many people are affected by the same thing, it can be easier to get the public and media’s attention. A mass tort can help shine a light on an issue that needs to be addressed.

To ensure that people are compensated for the damages they have suffered
When many people have been harmed in a similar way, it can be difficult for them to receive compensation on their own. A mass tort can help make sure that everyone who has been harmed receives the compensation they deserve.

How to Join a Mass Tort

The first step is to hire a lawyer. The lawyer will help you file the necessary paperwork and represent you in court. If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, you might be able to find one who will work on a contingency basis, which means you will not have to pay anything up front, and only pay out of your case winnings if the case is successful.

Contact an attorney
They can help you protect your rights, advise you on what steps to take next and will represent you in court.

Can Mass Torts Affect the Average Person?

The average person may not see the importance of being involved in a mass tort lawsuit. However, these cases can have a significant impact not only on the plaintiffs, but on the world around them.

Your voice will be heard
In a class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs are all part of one group. Their cases will be evaluated together, and they will likely receive similar compensation. However, in a mass tort situation, each plaintiff is treated separately. This is important because the facts and merits of each case matter, and a victim can be compensated based on their actual case. This means that mass tort victims can receive more compensation than a class action victim.

Hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions
Plaintiffs of a mass tort send the message that harmful, illegal behavior will not be tolerated. It’s more difficult for defendants to avoid responsibility for their actions when large numbers of people speak out.

You may receive compensation for your damages

Each case is evaluated on its own merits, and plaintiffs may receive a different amount of compensation than other plaintiffs. You won’t be required to split a single settlement with thousands of other people.

What Are the Downsides to Joining a Mass Tort?

There could be some downsides to joining a mass tort lawsuit:

The case may take a long time to resolve
You may be waiting for a longer period to get the compensation you deserve.

No guarantee of compensation
The mass tort case, as with any lawsuit, may not be successful.

The amount of compensation you receive may be less than expected
This is because the case is evaluated on an individual basis and not as part of a group.

You may have to pay legal fees out of pocket
If your attorney does not take your case on a contingency basis, you may have to cover legal fees up front.

How to Join a Mass Tort Lawsuit

If you are interested in joining a mass tort lawsuit, here are some important first steps:

Hire an experienced attorney
A lawyer who has experience in this type of litigation will make your experience much smoother.

Gather evidence that supports your case
This can include documents, emails, and other communications.

File your claim
Submit the necessary paperwork and evidence to the court.

Joining a mass tort lawsuit can be complicated, so working with an experienced attorney is important. They will help you gather evidence and file a claim with the court. Additionally, they will represent your interests throughout the litigation process.

Now that we know the basics of class action and mass tort lawsuits,  let’s take a closer look at the differences between these two types of litigation.

Comparison Table

Class ActionMass Tort
All cases are grouped and decided togetherCases are fought and decided individually
Entire group is represented by the same legal teamEach plaintiff has own attorney(s)
Evidence can be pooled together to represent the entire groupMust gather and present evidence for each individual case
Any settlement payout is split evenly among group membersSettlements are determined and paid individually

Differences Between Mass Torts and Class Actions

These are some of the biggest differences between the two:

How they’re fought and decided
In a class action, all cases are grouped together. Any damages are usually divided equally among all the victims. Mass tort cases are not grouped and do not share in the damages equally. Each case is evaluated individually and any compensation will be unique to each victim’s situation.

Class action lawsuits tend to settle quicker than mass torts. In a class action, a group files a case as a plaintiff that can be represented by one or more lawyers. Mass torts are more complex because they are evaluated individually, and each plaintiff may be represented by his or her own lawyer.

Because all cases are grouped together in a class action, every group member involved usually receives an equal share of any settlement payout, regardless of personal circumstances. This can mean class action payouts are smaller than mass torts. In mass torts, everyone’s case is evaluated separately and any damages awarded are based on a person’s specific situation, often resulting in much higher compensation.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of class action lawsuits and mass tort lawsuits, and how these two types of litigation differ. If you’ve been wronged or harmed by an individual, corporation or government entity, contact us to learn more about your legal options.

Join the Many is here to provide a free, no obligation case review to determine if you may be eligible for a settlement. If you are, we’ll carefully match you with the best attorney for your case. There are no legal fees unless you win compensation. Contact us today to get started.

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