What Is a Mass Tort?
Essentially, a mass tort case is a personal injury case taken on behalf of a large group. Each person in the group suffered similar, but not necessarily identical, injuries caused by the same party. One law firm represents the entire group as they seek compensation from the responsible party.
A mass tort lawsuit is quicker and more efficient than multiple individual lawsuits. While the lawsuits are grouped together for portions of the legal process, they are still separate in terms of verdicts and settlements.
Examples of Common Mass Torts
A mass tort lawsuit can be filed whenever one party injures many people through careless or reckless behavior. The most common types of mass torts are:
Defective Medical Devices and Drugs
Companies that manufacture medical devices and medications have an obligation to provide products that do what they are supposed to do, without any unintended side effects and without putting users at risk of harm.
These manufacturers should conduct sufficient testing to identify any flaws in their design or production. If any medical devices or drugs have negative side effects, the manufacturers must warn potential users so they can make an informed decision about using them. Failure to identify and alert customers of defects that can be harmful constitutes negligence by the manufacturer, which may be held liable for damages caused by the medical devices and drugs in question.
Dangerous products include any products that can potentially harm someone who uses them. A product may be dangerous because:
- It has a defective design that makes the product inherently dangerous to use. For example, a design flaw in the battery of the Galaxy Note 7 by Samsung caused some phones to overheat and catch on fire.
- There was a defect in the manufacturing process. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Toyota recalled certain Camrys because of a manufacturing issue that could lead to vane breakage within the vacuum pump.
- The manufacturer failed to warn users of a known hazard. There have been many lawsuits against tobacco corporations for their failure to warn consumers of the dangers of cigarettes. The National Association of Attorneys General outlines the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) worth billions of dollars between 52 states and territories and four major tobacco companies.
Our Los Angeles mass tort attorneys can evaluate the details of your specific case and determine if any of these circumstances apply to you.
Toxic Substance Exposure
Exposure to chemicals or toxic substances can cause serious health effects. If many people are exposed to the same toxin by one party, the injured people may have grounds for a mass tort case.
One recent and noteworthy case is the exposure of the residents of Flint, Michigan to lead through their drinking water, also known as the Flint Water Crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that when Flint switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, the water corroded the pipes, releasing lead into the city’s drinking water. More than half of Flint’s residents had worsened physical health and new behavioral health problems from lead exposure.
Catastrophic events, such as building fires or collapses, can impact hundreds of lives in just seconds. In some cases, these catastrophic events occur because of negligence by one or more parties. For example, the engineers or architects may have designed a faulty building, or the owner or manager may have violated the fire code. Poor choices like these can have disastrous consequences.
CNN reports that in June 2021, 98 people were killed when the Champlain Tower South in Miami collapsed. Some residents have sued the engineering firm responsible for inspecting and certifying the building’s structural integrity, claiming that its 2018 inspection failed to prevent this disaster.
Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes can damage the homes and lives of thousands of people at once. There is no legal basis for a lawsuit against the weather, as no one is responsible for it. However, insurance companies do have an obligation to pay their policyholders for the resulting damage. If they fail to make fair payments to enough people, policyholders may be able to file a mass tort lawsuit.
Outcomes of Past Mass Tort Cases
Here are the outcomes of some of the best-known mass tort cases:
- Champlain Towers South: As of March 2022, the families and survivors of the collapse have tentatively agreed to a $55 million settlement with the insurers of three defendants: Morabito Consultants, DeSimone Consulting Engineers, and Becker & Poliakoff P.A.
- Abilify: The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia reports that Bristol Myers Squibb agreed to a $19.5 million settlement with Washington, D.C. and 42 other states over claims that it promoted Abilify for use in children and elderly patients without U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, and that it misled consumers about the drug’s risk of metabolic and weight-gain side effects.
- Johnson & Johnson: CNN reports that the Supreme Court declined to review a decision from a Missouri appeals court that awarded $2.1 billion to a group of women who developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s talcum powder. The suit claims that Johnson & Johnson knew that its talcum powder contained asbestos, a known carcinogen, but failed to warn consumers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mass Torts
What Does Mass Tort Mean?
“Mass” means a large number of people, and “tort” means a wrongful action that injures someone. Therefore, a mass tort is a wrongful action that injures many people. Mass tort cases involve multiple plaintiffs who were harmed by the same defendant. They may have similar, but not necessarily identical, injuries.
What Is a Mass Tort Case?
A mass tort case is a legal action that seeks financial compensation from one defendant on behalf of multiple people. This group claims they were harmed by the same defendant and suffered similar injuries. A mass tort case combines certain components of the legal case, such as discovery and pre-trial motions, but preserves the individual cases of each plaintiff. Each case is judged on its own merit and any damages awarded reflect the losses suffered by each person.
What Is the Difference Between a Mass Tort Case and a Class Action?
A mass tort case and a class action case have some similarities but also some critical differences. Both involve large groups of people taking legal action against a defendant that they claim injured them through negligence.
- Class action: The plaintiffs in a class action usually have identical injuries. Here, the plaintiffs are treated as one legal body. The members agree to accept one verdict or settlement. By agreeing to these conditions, each plaintiff waives the right to file an individual lawsuit in the future.
- Mass tort: The plaintiffs in a mass tort may have similar but not identical injuries. Each member preserves their individual lawsuits, although certain aspects (such as discovery and pre-trial motions) are combined. Each plaintiff must demonstrate their own injuries and damages and receives their own settlement or jury award. They do not have to agree to accept one settlement.
How Long Does a Mass Tort Case Take?
There is no standard answer for how long a mass tort case takes. Many factors can influence the length of the case. If you join a mass tort lawsuit, the law firm representing you must recruit other plaintiffs, investigate your claims, and gather evidence. They must also collect medical records, document the causation of injuries, seek expert testimony, and more. This process can take a long time.
Once the initial steps are complete, your mass tort lawyers must take the case to trial. Mass tort cases often include bellwether trials, which are sample jury trials that allow both sides to see how the jury reacts to the case. The case may then proceed to trial, or it may be resolved through an out-of-court settlement. A mass tort case can take anywhere from months to years to reach a resolution.
What Is a Mass Tort Settlement?
A mass tort settlement is an agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant to end the case before a trial verdict. In many cases, the defendant pays the plaintiff without admitting any wrongdoing. In return, the plaintiff agrees to end the lawsuit. Settlements are often quicker and easier than a trial and provide resolution to both sides.
How Are Mass Torts Settled?
Mass torts can be resolved with an out-of-court settlement. Our mass tort attorneys in LA will estimate your total damages and use that estimate to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. Your settlement should compensate you for your medical bills, future medical treatment, unpaid time away from work, pain and suffering, emotional trauma, and more. A lawyer with experience in handling mass tort cases may be able to help you obtain the best possible compensation for your losses.
Are Mass Tort Settlements Taxable?
If you receive a mass tort settlement, part of it may be taxable and part may not be. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides information about how taxes affect settlements. The IRS includes all sources of income (including settlements) as part of your gross income, which is taxable.
If part of your settlement includes damages on account of personal physical injuries, that portion is not taxable. If part of your settlement includes punitive damages designed to punish the at-fault party, that portion is taxable. If you receive a settlement from a mass tort lawsuit, consult a tax professional when filing your taxes.
Are There Statutes of Limitations on Mass Torts?
Yes, there are statutes of limitations on mass torts. If your mass tort lawsuit is filed in a state court, then the statute of limitations for that state will affect your case. In California, CCP § 335.1 establishes the statute of limitations for personal injury at two years. Consult your mass tort lawyer about how the statute of limitations in your state affects your case.
In many cases, the statute of limitations starts on the day you were injured. But sometimes – for example, if you were injured by a defective drug, defective medical device, or toxin exposure – your injuries may not be apparent for months or years. When that happens, the two-year period begins as soon as you become aware of your injuries. Our mass tort lawyers in Los Angeles can help determine how any statutes of limitations apply to your case.
How Are Mass Torts Determined for Drugs?
Mass torts are determined for drugs by showing that large groups of people were harmed by a medication they thought would help them. While this may sound straightforward, it requires a lot of research and evidence to demonstrate that the drug in question caused the negative health impacts that people say they suffered.
It is not enough for a plaintiff to simply say that they used the drugs in question and sustained an injury. They will need medical bills and records, receipts for the medication, and expert medical testimony or scientific research that links the drug to their condition.
They must also demonstrate that:
- They were prescribed the drug or purchased it over the counter
- They suffered an injury that is documented by medical records
- They required treatment from health care professionals
- They sustained serious or life-altering injuries
How Do Mass Tort Law Firms Make Money?
Most mass tort law firms work on a contingency basis, which means they make money by taking a percentage of their client’s settlement or verdict award. This arrangement allows many plaintiffs to hire a lawyer when they would not otherwise be able to afford one.
With a contingency arrangement, the plaintiff pays no upfront fees or out-of-pocket costs. The mass tort law firm assumes the financial risk of investigating the case, hiring expert witnesses, paying court filing fees, and more before they are paid. For this reason, mass tort law firms carefully evaluate each case before agreeing to take it on.
Contact a Los Angeles Mass Tort Lawyer Today
If you were injured and would like to know more about joining a mass tort lawsuit, KJT Law Group is here to help. Our team of LA mass tort lawyers has vast experience in cases like these, and we are ready to fight for the compensation you deserve.
To get started, call (818) 507-8525 today for a free case review.