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What’s the Difference: Class Actions vs. Mass Torts

Posted on: September 10th, 2020 by Romanucci & Blandin

By: Bryce T. Hensley, Attorney at Law, Romanucci & Blandin

You have suffered an unjustified wrong and after doing some research you find: “I’m not the only one.” Immediately, the phrase “class action” comes to mind. But that is not the only legal path to justice, and in some cases a class action does not make sense, a mass tort does, instead. So what is a class action and why do some cases get filed as class actions while others do not?

 

A class action is a type of lawsuit where one person or group of people (the class representative(s)) represent the rights of others (the class members) who were victims of a similar wrong and suffered similar repercussions or damages. In order for a class action to proceed though, the individuals seeking to represent the class must get court approval in a process known as “certification.” Importantly, if certification is granted, none of the class members have to file their own cases—only the representatives do. It is then the representatives’ cases that move forward and “speak” for the entire class. The representatives’ cases can resolve common issues for thousands, sometimes millions, of people all at once and bring the cases to a more efficient close. However, before certification, judges must ensure, among other things, that those issues can be decided uniformly among all class members and that those issues are the focus of the case. Included in the Court’s analysis is whether they can commonly assess or easily calculate each class members’ damage. Class actions, then, are most frequently reserved for issues like data breaches, stock manipulation, and consumer fraud. For instance, where a company’s fraudulent activity causes stock prices to plummet or where a company promises a product to consumers at a certain price but tacks on an extra fee in a bait and switch. In those types of cases, not only has the same misconduct harmed each class member, but their damages will be similar or can be found using formulas or other metrics. 

However, where significant differences exist between each individual, the class action “one size fits all” approach and having someone else represent you may not be in your best interest. Instead, lawyers may proceed with cases for each affected person individually in what are sometimes called “mass torts.” Take a suburban community that has been exposed to toxic emissions. There, each person will have breathed in varying amounts of a poisonous chemical. Their exposure, symptoms, medical diagnosis, treatment, and expenses as a result will all vary significantly. In these types of cases, each individual will represent themselves in their own case for their own unique injury, just like a traditional lawsuit. However, courts will still typically join the cases together in a process called consolidation, which can still allow for answering the questions that are common efficiently once, instead of over and over again (i.e. Did the company know that the chemical they were dumping into the community was toxic?) while giving victims independence and control over their specific case. 

Whether your case is proceeding as a class action or a mass tort, there is undoubtedly strength in numbers. Proceeding in a class action or consolidated together in a mass tort can emphasize the severity of the wrong that was committed; prove your case if your claim requires proof of widespread wrongdoing; lighten the expense of proceeding with difficult lawsuits against powerful companies and governments by spreading certain case costs across hundreds, thousands, or even millions of similarly-affected people; and, ultimately, help settle your case.

The lawyers at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC are proud to help represent clients in both class action and mass tort cases. A few of those cases include: 

  • Concert attendees at the Route 91 Festival Shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada in their cases against MGM hotels (mass tort); 
  • Residents of Willowbrook, Illinois and surrounding communities in their claims against Sterigenics for causing cancer and other health conditions (mass tort);
  • Families of victims of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in their cases against Boeing (mass tort); 
  • Individuals who took the prescription drug Zantac or its generic, Ranitidine, in their claims against pharmaceutical companies for causing their cancer (mass tort);
  • More than 40 people, including eleven firefighters and three police officers, sustained serious, preventable injuries as a result of a farmer’s carelessness and utter disregard when transporting anhydrous ammonia, allowing it to leak into the surrounding community around Beach Park, Lake County, Illinois. (mass tort);
  • Businesses nationwide in their cases against insurance companies for refusing to pay their business interruption claims during the COVID-19 pandemic (mass tort and class action);  
  • Illinois automobile insurance policyholders in a class action against numerous insurance companies for failure to provide fair and appropriate insurance premium relief due to significantly reduced miles travelled during the COVID-19 pandemic (class action);
  • Residents and businesses in Illinois in a class action seeking restitution against ComEd for their admitted bribery of Illinois elected officials (class action); and

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