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What is the Difference Between a Class Action and a Mass Tort?

by John Gomez | Last Updated: April 29, 2016

Class actions and mass torts are phrases one hears in lawsuits that affect large numbers of people, such as a case against a company that wronged many people with one action. While they are the same in this regard, the similarities end there – these phrases have very different meanings.

Mass Torts

A mass tort litigation is a specific area of personal injury law that involves damages to large groups of people. Types of mass tort lawsuits in the past have included product recalls, food and beverage illnesses, tobacco-related injuries, surgical implants, toxic exposures, and health code violations, as well as other types of lawsuits that involve a large number of people affected by the same issue.

One example of a mass tort lawsuit was the BP oil spill of 2010. In this case, hundreds of business owners sued BP for a loss of business due to the contamination of the ocean in their area, which was the main attraction for tourists. Since one company was responsible for widespread damages to a large group of people, the lawsuit was a mass tort.

Mass tort claims are highly complex, sometimes involving hundreds of people, multiple attorneys, and insurance companies. If you think you’ve been injured in a mass tort claim, you should compile documents that are related to your injuries, research the issue, and contact an attorney right away.

Class Actions

Unlike a mass tort, a class action refers to a single lawsuit that combines many different plaintiffs with the same type of injury together, into a single class case against the defendant(s). The idea behind class actions is to reduce the number of lawsuits going to court for the same issue and the same injuries, when it is easier, more cost effective, and more reasonable to combine them into a single lawsuit.

Class actions have a narrower scope than mass torts and must involve one common injury connected to the same defendant. In a class action, the plaintiffs all share common characteristics. If an injury is of a different type, plaintiffs should file it separately.

An example of a class action is the Fraley v. Facebook settlement, where multiple consumers filed a single lawsuit against Facebook for using children’s names and images for advertising without consent. Regardless of whether Facebook used consumers’ names, likenesses, or actual images without permission, they received compensation after a settlement for $20 million – in most cases resulting in about $10 after dividing it among all of those affected.

When Mass Torts and Class Actions Are Connected

There are occasions where multiple class actions are connected to a single mass tort lawsuit, in which case an individual can file a class action within a mass tort claim. This is most common for cases involving toxic exposure and environmental damage, where the injuries can vary depending on the type of exposure, but they are all related to the same defendant.

Although the concepts are related, they still abide by their own set of rules – rules that vary state to state. They can involve many details and are complex for all involved. In any type of mass tort or case action, plaintiffs will need to help of a professional personal injury attorney.

Mass Tort/Class Action Attorneys in San Diego

Gomez Trial Attorneys have experience handling class action and mass tort cases, and we can navigate the difficult and complex legal landscape they involve. Our team of personal injury lawyers is the best in San Diego and has won tens of millions of dollars for our clients in the last decade. Let us represent you in your class action or mass tort lawsuit. Contact our offices today for a free case evaluation.







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