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A tort is a civil (as opposed to a criminal) wrong committed by one person that results in injury to another person. (A corporation is considered a legal “person.”) The person who commits the tort is legally responsible (or, liable) for the harm suffered by the victim. The victim, if he or she sues, becomes a plaintiff. The party sued is the defendant. The plaintiff typically sues the defendant to recover damages (monetary compensation for the plaintiff’s injury).
A mass tort is a single tort that results in injury to many victims, and therefore involves numerous plaintiffs suing one defendant (or several defendants) who acted negligently or are strictly liable. In most mass tort cases, the various individual plaintiffs must be suing based on harms caused by a single common product. Two of the most frequent mass tort claims are:
- Consumer product claims: Many plaintiffs might sue together seeking compensation for injuries (or even deaths) caused by dangerous products; and
- Pharmaceutical claims: Unfortunately, even medical products such as drugs” whether prescribed by a doctor or bought over-the-counter” intended to help you can be dangerous or deadly.
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When a large group of plaintiffs want to sue a common defendant in a single lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ lawyer must ask the court for permission to file a mass tort action. The court will consider the following, among other things, when determining whether to give permission:
- Whether a large number of plaintiffs are involved;
- Whether the plaintiffs are located near to or far from each other;
- Whether the injuries suffered by the various plaintiffs are similar;
- Whether the claims made by the plaintiffs are associated with a common cause, such as a single product or disaster.
If the court determines that the proposed case is indeed a proper mass tort action, the case will typically be assigned quickly to a judge. The judge might order that notice of the lawsuit be published in newspapers so that others who have been harmed by the same product can join the lawsuit if they wish to.
(Note that a mass tort action is different from a class action. In a mass tort action, each plaintiff has an individual claim resulting from distinct damages. Each plaintiff receives his or her own, separate trial, whereas in a class action, the many plaintiffs typically are not considered individually and there is only one trial.)
For a plaintiff, there are advantages to taking part in mass tort litigation. One is that the investigation and preparation that goes into a mass tort case can often be transferred from one client to another, which can vastly increase efficiency.