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The Difference Between Class Action and Mass Tort Litigation

Class action litigation and mass tort litigation represent two distinct legal avenues, each wielding unique strategies and implications. Understanding the differences is crucial for navigating complex litigation and advocating for equitable resolutions.

Published on:
April 4, 2024

Class action litigation and mass tort litigation represent two distinct legal avenues, each wielding unique strategies and implications. While both involve multiple plaintiffs seeking recourse against a common defendant, their execution diverges into two very different avenues. Particularly when it comes to insurance and medical claims that are dependent on medical records, class actions often encompass broader systemic issues, while mass torts focus on specific injuries or products. Understanding these nuances is crucial for navigating complex litigation and advocating for equitable resolutions.

What is Class Action Litigation?

Class action litigation is a legal proceeding in which a group of individuals collectively sue a defendant, typically a company or institution, for similar grievances. It allows plaintiffs with similar claims against a defendant to consolidate their cases into one single lawsuit. The amalgamation of their cases in turn streamlines legal processes and reduces costs for plaintiffs and the court system overall. Class actions are often used in cases where numerous individuals have suffered harm or damages due to the actions or negligence of the defendant.

Class action litigation can be particularly relevant in both insurance and medical claims. For instance, if an insurance company engages in unfair practices affecting a large group of policyholders or denies legitimate claims on a widespread basis, affected individuals may come together in a class action lawsuit to seek compensation or policy changes. In February of 2023, a federal grand jury in Charlotte, North Carolina returned an indictment charging Greg E. Lindberg with masterminding and directing a massive scheme to deceive state insurance regulators and defraud thousands of policyholders in connection with insurance companies he controlled. 

In the medical field, if a pharmaceutical company releases a drug with harmful side effects that affect several patients, those patients may initiate a class action to hold the company accountable and obtain compensation for their injuries. In November of 2023, members of a proposed class action lawsuit against Ozempic in Canada described side effects which were not adequately described as potential side effects of the drug. In both scenarios, class action litigation provides a means for individuals with similar grievances to pursue justice collectively, rather than individually, which can be more effective and efficient in the legal system.

What is Mass Tort Litigation?

Mass tort litigation also involves several plaintiffs who have suffered similar harm from a common source, consolidated into a single lawsuit due to their shared legal and factual issues. However, mass tort cases differ from class action lawsuits in that each plaintiff’s case is brought to trial individually, allowing for more personalized attention and legal strategy to the specific damages suffered.

Tort law poses significant challenges when it comes to insurance claims. Insurance companies might face a surge in claims related to mass harm, potentially leading to financial strain if inadequately prepared. Medical claims are often intertwined with mass torts, particularly in cases involving pharmaceuticals or medical devices. In a mass tort case against the medical device company Paragard that has been ongoing since 2021, the lawsuits allege the Paragard intrauterine device (IUD) breaks upon removal due to the materials it is made of, leading to over 2.5K lawsuits lodged against Teva Pharmaceutical and Coopersurgical. As of March 2024, lawyers are moving toward the trial scheduled to take place in early 2025 in Georgia to aid in compensation for over 1K individuals’ suffering. Insurers covering these healthcare providers can also find themselves exposed to liability claims arising from alleged medical malpractice associated with the mass tort.

The resolution of mass tort litigation can have far-reaching implications for insurers and medical claims. Settlements or verdicts can set precedents, impacting future claims and insurance coverage policies. The scale of mass torts necessitates efficient management and resolution strategies to mitigate financial losses and uphold insurers’ obligations to policyholders.

Determining the Case Classification

Determining whether a case is suitable for a class action or mass tort hinges on several factors. While both involve numerous affected individuals, key considerations include the nature and extent of injuries as well as legal complexities and the potential for efficient resolution. Consulting with legal experts experienced in both class actions and mass torts can provide invaluable guidance in navigating these distinctions and choosing the most appropriate legal strategy tailored to one’s specific circumstances.

Alanna Andersen
Content Writer

Alanna Andersen is a professional freelancer in the art of writing, editing, and proofing. In her past life, she was a Booking Agent and Tour Manager in the music industry and restaurant General Manager in bustling downtown Toronto, Canada. As an avid researcher, she enjoys learning new things and expanding her knowledge. In her spare time, she enjoys travelling around the world, spending time with her cats, dancing to live music, and watching horror films.

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