What Is a Mass Tort?
A civil lawsuit involving many injured plaintiffs brought against one or a several defendants, who are usually corporate manufacturers.
Examples of Mass Tort Litigation
• asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits;
• claims over the safety of Paraquat and other
glyphosate-based weed killers;
• product liability cases over failed surgically implanted inferior vena cava (IVC) filters, and
• lawsuits linking Zantac® and other ranitidine heartburn medications to cancer.
Mass Torts and Multi-District Litigation
Typically, mass tort plaintiffs are geographically dispersed across the country. Consider a defective product. The manufacturer markets the productnationwide, and it is likely that consumers in all 50 states will suffer harm as a result. If each plaintiff files an individual lawsuit, the court system would be overwhelmed and become clogged with hundreds or thousands of cases with the same or very similar underlying facts.
This paved the way for mass tort litigation.
When cases are filed in multiple courts across the country, a party may file with the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (“MDL”) a motion to transfer all cases to a single court for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407. The different legal actions are consolidated for pre-trial proceeding convenience, including discovery, and may be sent back to the courts where they came from for the trial. In summary, the MDL is the process of streamlining complex civil lawsuits that arise out of the same course of conduct – like mass tort cases and products liability claims – by consolidating them into a single federal district court for pretrial proceedings.
The Benefits of Mass Tort Cases
One of the primary benefits of mass tort litigation is economy of scale. Lawsuits are costly, and civil wrongs can go uncompensated when individuals cannot afford to prosecute their claims against big, powerful and well-funded corporations alone.
Mass tort plaintiffs in multi-district litigation benefit from shared discovery that their lawyers use to prove that the defendants’ wrongful conduct caused their injuries. Additionally, highly qualified experts testify in these cases to prove (or refute) the defendants’ culpability and the extent of the plaintiffs’ damages. The expert witness fees alone would be extremely costly for a single plaintiff. Mass torts provide economy of scale because the costs associated with proving causation are borne by all plaintiffs, as opposed to each plaintiff having to spend significant funds to individually prove his or her case.
In contrast to class-action litigation, MDL proceedings allow for each client’s individual needs to be addressed while still enjoying many of the benefits that have traditionally been associated with class-action cases, such as the pooling of resources that may be needed to litigate against a large, powerful corporation with virtually unlimited resources of their own.