Most of us have heard the terms “mass tort” and “class action”, but there is a great deal of uncertainty in the general public regarding these two actions, and many people use the terms interchangeably. The two terms are not interchangeable, but represent two different legal scenarios, although they share some characteristics. Here’s a brief explanation of what each term means.
A class action is a single law suit which combines the claims of many similarly situated individuals, which is advanced by one party on behalf of all others who have been similarly injured. A court must certify the ‘class’, or group of claimants. When a claimant joins the class, he/she agrees that their claim will be tried as part of the single complaint that is filed. Money obtained through the settlement of a class action law suit is typically distributed to the group of claimants in proportion to the harm suffered by the claimant. A grid, or distribution schedule, is often created for the levels of injury for which compensation was obtained. Each individual claimant is slotted into the grid and receives their respective share. There have been a number of highly publicized class action suits, often involving toxic exposures.
A mass tort is a number of different law suits against the same party, based on the same claims that have been joined together for prosecution to achieve economies in scale, effort and expense. While a class action has one single law suit, a mass tort contains many different law suits, all of which have been filed against the same defendant(s). Each claimant, or plaintiff, has their own law suit, and their own unique damage claims. An example of a mass tort is the claims that have been filed against prescription drug manufacturers, alleging injury from a defective drug.
Stark & Stark is an active participant, on behalf of our clients, in a number of mass tort cases filed in New Jersey as well as other states.