Often, when you hear about class actions you will also hear the term “mass tort,” or “mass action” also discussed. The reason is that there are some definite similarities between a mass tort and a class action.
For example, both types of procedural actions share these similarities:
- Large group of plaintiffs have been allegedly harmed.
- The same common defendants are alleged to have caused that harm.
- The lawsuit is consolidated into one action, and not into separate individual lawsuits.
The key difference between mass torts and class actions has to do with how, procedurally, the large group of plaintiffs is treated.
Mass torts often involve injuries to a distinct group of individuals who may reside in the same geographic area. The number of people injured in mass tort cases are sometimes smaller than those injured in larger class actions.
With mass torts each plaintiff, even though they are part of a large group, is treated as an individual. That means, for instance, that for each plaintiff certain facts need to be established, including anything individual to that particular plaintiff, and how that person has been damaged by the actions of defendant.
On the other hand, in a class action the large group of plaintiffs, known collectively as the class, are represented by a class representative, who stands in for the rest of the class. This means all members of the class are treated as one plaintiff, not separately.
Which Type of Action Is Proper For a Particular Case?
Mass torts are often used when one of the legal criteria for proceeding as a class action is not met. For example, often a mass tort action is used when each plaintiff in the group has so many individual and uncommon factual circumstances that they outweigh the common issues of fact and questions of law necessary for proceeding as a class action.
There are a lot of complex considerations that are made in determining whether a case should proceed as a class action or a mass tort. Starr Austen & Miller have handled a number of mass tort actions where the groups ranged in size from 25 to as many as 150 persons.