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What is a Mass Tort Lawsuit and How Do They Work?

By
Lia Kopin-Green
/
June 15, 2023
Last reviewed by
Joanna Smykowski, Esq.
/
June 15, 2023

Seeking justice for widespread harm that has affected numerous people? If so, you may be wondering about mass tort lawsuits and how they work. A mass tort lawsuit is a legal action that involves a large number of individuals who have suffered similar injuries or damages by the same product, event, or action. The multitude of plaintiffs in these cases typically makes it impractical to handle each case separately, so they are consolidated against the responsible entity.

In this informative article, we’ll explore the main steps involved in a mass tort lawsuit, from the initial stages to resolution.

1. Identifying Common Harm

Mass tort lawsuits may be initiated when a product, event, or action causes harm to numerous different individuals. This harm may occur as a result of various factors, such as a defective medical device, exposure to a toxic substance, or a specific event such as an environmental disaster or chemical spill. In every mass tort, the unifying factor among the plaintiffs is the element that caused their harm or injury. For instance, in a mass tort lawsuit involving a contaminated food product, the plaintiffs suffered from similar symptoms such as food poisoning and related illnesses caused by consuming the tainted product.

2. Gathering Evidence

Once a common harm has been determined, the next step in the process is to begin investigating and gathering evidence. This stage plays a critical role in building a strong case against the defendants. Attorneys representing the plaintiffs may review medical records, consult with experts, interview witnesses, and collect documentation to help establish a clear link between the product, event, or action and the injuries or damages incurred. Further, attorneys may engage in discovery, a legal process in which both parties exchange relevant information and evidence. This can include requesting documents and conducting depositions to gather additional evidence.

3. Filing Individual Lawsuits

Mass tort lawsuits differ from class action suits since in a mass tort, each plaintiff must file an individual lawsuit against the defendants. This approach acknowledges the unique circumstances and damages suffered by each plaintiff. However, in order to acknowledge the common harm of these cases, the individual suits are generally consolidated at a later stage into a mass tort claim. The claims are filed with a specialized court known as multidistrict litigation (MDL) court. The MDL court allows for efficient management and coordination of the litigation process while noting the similarities of the cases. 

4. Bellwether Trials

In a mass tort with a multitude of similar cases, it's not possible to hold trials for all of them. Instead, a few cases are chosen to be representative examples, known as "bellwether" trials. These trials help provide a sense of how the other cases might turn out and are used as a testing ground for the arguments and evidence. Bellwether trials are individual cases selected from a larger group of lawsuits in a mass tort litigation. In these cases, a few representative cases from a larger group of lawsuits in a mass tort are analyzed to give everyone involved in the case a sense of how juries may react to the evidence and arguments presented. Bellwether trials can provide valuable insight into the potential outcomes of the case. 

5. Evaluating Bellwether Trial Results

Once the bellwether trials are complete, their outcomes are carefully evaluated by both sides - the plaintiffs and defendants. The results of the initial bellwether trials can greatly influence the number of trials required before reaching a settlement for the entire group of cases. If the first few bellwether trials lead to significant verdicts favoring the plaintiffs, the defendants may be compelled to negotiate a settlement covering all the cases promptly. During the evaluation process, the parties may also assess the potential risks they face in the remaining cases and consider any significant rulings or precedents set by the court during the trials.

6. Settlement Negotiations

Settlement negotiations involve discussions between the plaintiffs’’ attorneys and the defendants, often facilitated by mediators. The negotiation process typically entails a series of exchanges where each side presents their positions, arguments, and proposed terms of settlement. The strength of the evidence produced in the bellwether trials, the possible responsibility and damages faced by the defendants, their financial resources, and the interests and requirements of the plaintiffs are all things that the parties may take into account while negotiating a settlement. Additionally, they might take into account precedents established by prior settlements in comparable mass tort cases as well as possible effects on the defendants' reputation and public image. 

7. Resolution 

Mass tort lawsuits are typically resolved either through a jury verdict or an out-of-court settlement. Considering the fact that settling outside of a formal courtroom is usually faster and easier, many parties may aim to reach a resolution during settlement negotiations. Once settlements or judgments are reached, the resolution phase involves awarding compensation to the plaintiffs or dismissal of claims. The distribution of compensation may involve various methods, such as direct payment to the plaintiffs, establishment of settlement funds, or other agreed-upon mechanisms. In some instances, the parties may file an appeal on the verdict. 

Bottom Line

If you find yourself caught in the middle of a complex mass tort lawsuit, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the intricacies of the legal process. Fortunately, our team of expert mass tort lawyers is here to help. From investigating the common harm of a mass tort case to negotiating a fair settlement, our exceptional attorneys are here every step of the way. Connect with a top-notch mass tort professional today with Attorney At Law.

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