Class Action Suits vs. Mass Torts

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Class Action Suits vs. Mass Torts

Class Action Suits vs. Mass Torts


When an event causing injury or death to many people occurs, such as an airplane accident, an exposure to a toxic substance such as asbestos, or the discovery that a medical implant has been defective, the victims usually want to pursue legal action. In Canada, there are two ways that groups of victims can proceed in the legal system: class action suits, or mass torts. The two ways of bringing legal action have similar aims – to gain compensation for the victims – but the process is different.


Class Action


A class action suit is probably the better-known option. This type of suit is brought collectively by a large number of people who harbor the same legal complaint against the same defendant. The law firm(s) representing the members of the class action suit find a representative or representatives to be the public “face” of the suit. The claim begins with the naming of this representative, who should fairly and adequately represent all plaintiffs.


The class action suit aims to resolve the claims of all the people harmed in a single proceeding. The great advantage for the members of a class action suit is that it allows a group of people to have access to the courts in situations where it would be prohibitively expensive or too complex for one person to sue on his or her own; it’s a way for citizens to take on large corporations on a more level playing field.


If you have been affected by the incident or issue, you will automatically be included in the class action, and will receive a share of any compensation obtained. (If you wish to pursue action on your own behalf, you will need to officially opt out of the class action suit.)


Whether the action goes to trial or is resolved through settlement, the members of the class are bound by the settlement or decision that is made on behalf of the whole group. Plaintiffs are then sorted into categories and are awarded compensation based on the severity of their injuries and circumstances. Funds are then distributed to each of the categories, and individuals have very little input into how much compensation they receive.



Mass Torts


Mass torts are another way for people to address harm done by dangerous products and accidents. The term refers to the simultaneous launching of many individual lawsuits against the same defendant with regard to the same issue or incident. Each mass tort action is launched on behalf of an individual, and therefore, there is no representative plaintiff. Each action will have a similar statement of claim, although each will be tailored to the plaintiff’s particular situation. It is important to gather as many plaintiffs as possible in order to place pressure on the defendant, which is usually a corporation.


There are many similarities between class action suits and mass torts: each aims to help individuals take on large defendants to gain compensation for harm done to them by that entity. Lawyers for both work on a contingency basis, which means that they do not charge hourly rates, but rather receive a percentage of any compensation.


The major advantage of pursuing a claim via a mass tort rather than through class action is evident in the settlement stage. Because mass torts feature individual plaintiffs, each has the power to negotiate with regard to any settlement offers. They may accept, reject, or counter an offer, and can pursue the case as they see fit, without having to comply with decisions made on behalf of the entire class.


Which Is the Right Course to Take?


There are several factors to consider when making the decision whether to pursue a claim via a class action suit or mass torts, and your lawyer will be able to tell you the reasoning behind the approach that he or she wants to take.


Mass torts offer the plaintiff more agency and often have a larger payout, as evidenced by the experience of those who were injured by the drug Vioxx. Vioxx was a pain relief drug marketed by Merck for arthritis and other painful conditions. After being on the market for several years, it was found that taking the drug often led to the formation of blood clots, and many patients had died or had been seriously injured. In the US, mass torts action led to settlements of about $100,000 per person for 45,000 plaintiffs. In Canada, a class action suit was settled with payments of only $5,000 available to people who suffered non-fatal strokes, and $50,000 maximums for those who suffered more serious problems. It may seem, from those figures, that mass torts is a more effective way to proceed. However, the Canadian court system is less able than the US system to accommodate mass torts, particularly for a case with national scope, so it is often the case that a class action suit has more potential to succeed.


If you have been injured in a plane, train, or bus crash, or if you have been harmed by a product, contact a personal injury law firm today.