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What Are Mass Torts?



Mass torts are civil actions that have many plaintiffs involved against one or several defendant corporations. The suits can be venued in state or federal courts. The term "mass" has several layers of meaning in mass torts. The first meaning refers to the participation of many plaintiffs in tort litigation. The second meaning refers to the use of mass media by plaintiffs' lawyers to recruit even more plaintiffs to join the ongoing litigation and plaintiffs' class. The media is used, even if indirectly, by plaintiffs' bar to air the case preliminarily to the public (and potential jury pool).

How Mass Torts Differ From Other Personal Injury Lawsuits

Mass torts are different from other personal injury lawsuits and have at least three distinct characteristics that set them apart. For one thing, mass torts involve the participation of large volumes of claims that regard a sole product or device. Additionally, even though there are large numbers of plaintiffs involved in mass torts, the underlying facts and issues in dispute are similar, if not uniform, across all of the many cases. Finally, different claims in mass torts have an interdependence in value.

Efficiency and Economy of Scale

Mass torts represent a new and developing area of tort litigation that stems from advances in modern technology, and in particular, production and distribution. When many parties are injured similarly by a single product, the situation is deemed a mass tort. The intent of this form of litigation is to allow injured parties whose injuries occurred in a similar experience to have their collective claims heard and tried concurrently to benefit from efficiency and economy of scale. Mass tort litigation encompasses product liability claims, large antitrust claims against businesses, and man-made disasters of a large scale, such as plant explosions, plane crashes, or apartment fires.

Considerations

Mass torts are not for every personal injury or tort lawyer to prosecute. The practice mandates a huge amount of financial capital because the upfront and ongoing costs are so great for the litigation for the years until there is a settlement or award, from expert witness fees, travel expenses, and copying costs, to technology expenses and discovery costs in large-scale and high-volume litigation. The costs of everyday civil litigation today are high and escalating, but mass torts involve such a massive scale that the high figures are multiplied several times. Lawyers must front these fees during the pendency of the suit in almost all cases, unless a specific contractual arrangement is made to the contrary. Mass torts also require a huge support staff of legal assistants, paralegals, and junior associates to handle and manage the case and the huge volume of paper or files that are generated and must be retained in an organized fashion throughout the litigation, so that it is easily accessible.