Get help with a Defective Drug or Medical Device Injury
Mass tort is a name given to legal claims involving dozens, hundreds or thousands of people injured in some way by negligence or due to a product they purchased. If one is involved in a mass tort legal action it doesn’t impact your legal rights. It just might change procedurally how your lawsuit is handled because of the large number of parties involved.
Generally under the law there are two types of legal actions, contract and tort. Tort actions involve a plaintiff filing a legal claim to recover damages (a measurement in dollars of harm done) against another party or parties (the defendant(s)) who, because of their negligence, intentional acts or by putting into the marketplace a defective and dangerous product, caused the plaintiff’s harm.
The plaintiff seeks compensation for the harm through the legal action. The plaintiff has the burden of proving that it’s more likely than not the defendant violated the law and it has an obligation to compensate the plaintiff. These legal claims may be brought under federal or state laws (which vary depending on the jurisdiction) and are based on the facts of each plaintiff’s unique situation.
The number of mass tort actions is only limited by the number of defective products and unlawful actions by parties who cause harm to others. What they have in common is a large number of people impacted by the acts, or the failure to act, by the defendant(s).
What are damages?
The purpose of the damages is to compensate the plaintiff for the harm done by the defendants. It can cover,
- Physical and psychological pain and suffering,
- Loss of relationships with others,
- Past, present and future medical bills, and,
- Past, present and future lost wages and benefits.
In cases of extreme negligence or intentional acts a defendant may be ordered to pay punitive damages. They’re meant to punish the defendant for wrongdoing and discourage it and others from doing the same thing again in the future. Family members of those killed due to the acts of defendants may be able to obtain damages as allowed by state laws.
What is negligence?
Normally these kinds of lawsuits are brought under one or both of the legal theories of negligence and strict or product liability. Under a negligence theory the plaintiff needs to show that,
- The defendant owed it a legal duty (to comply with the law and not sell a product it knew, or should’ve known, was dangerous),
- The defendant failed to live up to (or breached) its legal duty,
- That breach was the factual and legal (or proximate) cause of the accident or incident that harmed the plaintiff, and,
- Under the applicable law, the defendant has a legal obligation to pay damages to compensate the plaintiff for the harm done.
What is strict or product liability?
For strict or product liability claims a plaintiff would need to show,
- The defendant sold a product the plaintiff used,
- The defendant was involved in putting the product into the marketplace,
- The plaintiff suffered an injury,
- The product was defective when the plaintiff bought it,
- The defect was an actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, and,
- The defendant has a legal obligation to compensate the plaintiff for the injury.
There are many types of product liability claims and they vary based on the facts, applicable law and the product at issue. Products liability claims can be based on strict liability, or breach of warranty of fitness.
- Under a strict liability theory, generally, if a defendant is responsible in some way for making a product available to be sold and it turns out to be dangerous, even when it’s used as intended, there’s potential liability.
- The plaintiff need not show the defendant intended to harm anyone.
- There’s an assumption that something that’s for sale is safe for use as intended (a warranty for fitness, whether in writing or not) and there can be liability if the warranty is breached.
There are different kinds of defects that can result in liability for injuries.
- Design defects: The product is dangerous from the start. Its design is flawed and as a result, during normal use, it’s potentially dangerous. A power tool that’s designed not to have safety guards would have a design defect.
- Manufacturing defects: The product’s design may be safe but how it’s manufactured makes it dangerous. Materials may be substandard or there aren’t enough quality controls. A tire, because it was made with inferior material fails at highway speed, would have a manufacturing defect.
- Defects in marketing: The product may have a safe design and is safely manufactured, but it’s marketed to be used in a way that makes it dangerous, instructions may be incorrect or insufficient and there aren’t warnings about potential dangers that aren’t readily knowable by the consumer. A drug made to treat one condition, but sold as a treatment for another, which injures the patient, would have defective marketing.
How are mass tort cases handled by the courts?
Our state and federal court systems are, generally, overwhelmed with civil cases. They’re not well equipped to handle mass tort cases where there could be hundreds of plaintiffs and dozens of defendants. The court system has adapted and come up with ways to make the best of a bad situation.
Depending on your legal claim, the facts of your case, how you were injured and the jurisdiction where your lawsuit is filed, your mass tort claim may be handled in different ways.
- Your case may be handled just like any other legal claim where a plaintiff claims injuries caused by the defendant. You may have a judge or jury decide the verdict.
- You may be part of a class action. If the facts, applicable law, claims and defenses of a large group of plaintiffs and the defendants are sufficiently similar, a class action lawsuit may be formed. A plaintiff, or group of plaintiffs, representing the class of plaintiffs, has the case tried and the outcome applies to all the plaintiffs and defendants involved.
- If there are a large number of plaintiffs, but the case doesn’t meet the requirements of a class action, their cases from all over a state, or the whole country, may be assigned to a specific state or federal judge. This is called multi district litigation. The cases would be handled in a way to make the outcome as efficient as possible. There may be “bellwether” cases where a small group of plaintiffs have their claims tried and the outcome (whether positive or negative for the parties) normally gives all sides an idea of the chances of ultimate success for these claims and their settlement value, setting the stage for a potential settlement for all the plaintiffs involved.
Talk to a lawyer so you can make an informed decision
If you believe you’ve been seriously injured because of the fault of another party, you should speak to an attorney. What may seem to be a simple issue may be much more complicated and involve a mass tort. A car accident may not be the fault of the other driver, it may have been caused by a defective part installed in thousands of cars. Harm you think was caused by your doctors might also be caused by the manufacturer of a drug you were prescribed or the maker of a defective medical implant.
Edward Lott, Ph.D., M.B.A.
President and Managing Partner
ForLawFirmsOnly Marketing, Inc.