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What is a Mass Tort?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A mass tort is a civil suit with a large group of plaintiffs suing a limited number of defendants for damages. The laws about mass torts vary and many regions have programs in place to administer and manage mass torts. Cases must be designated as such in order to qualify for administration under these programs. In a mass tort, hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs with cases of a similar nature may be involved.

Some common reasons for a mass tort to occur include disasters involving large numbers of people, product liability cases, and so-called toxic torts that involve exposure to toxins. In a mass tort, the cases of the plaintiffs are all similar, even if they are not exactly the same. For example, if a company is being sued for making a product that puts people at risk of finger amputation, plaintiffs could include people who have lost anything from single fingers to all of the fingers on one hand. However, someone injured by a separate product from the same manufacturer or in different circumstances would not be able to join the mass tort.

Litigating mass torts requires a highly coordinated legal team. Lawyers work with plaintiffs to collect supporting documentation, move through the discovery process to uncover documents and evidence from the defendants, and bring the case to trial or work out a settlement. At the conclusion of the case, if the jury agrees that the defendant is responsible, damages are awarded to the plaintiffs.

When lawyers suspect that they have a mass tort on their hands, one of the first steps they take is to seek out additional clients. For example, if a law firm has 200 people who experienced dangerous side effects from a medication, it might publish notices asking people who have taken that medication and had bad experiences to contact the firm. As the case progresses, notices can be sent out to people who might be eligible for damages to alert them to the fact that a mass tort is occurring and they can join the case to receive damages.

Some mass torts attract considerable attention because they involve popular or controversial products. Notably, a number of pharmaceutical companies have been sued by large groups of plaintiffs who have experienced problems with their medications. Mass torts have been used to force companies to clean up environmental pollution, to recover damages for family members of people who die in disasters, and to recover damages in a variety of other types of cases.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By starrynight — On Oct 06, 2011

@strawCake - I think you should actually be careful about participating in a class action law suit. I got the paperwork for one awhile ago, and after I carefully read through it, I decided not to participate.

The paperwork clearly stated that if the just ruled in favor of the defendant, the defendant planned to sue the class for damages. I decided that the small monetary payout I might get from participating wasn't worth being counter-sued. I'm not sure what ended up happening with that law suit, but I feel pretty good about not getting caught up in it.

By strawCake — On Oct 05, 2011

It sounds like a mass tort is pretty much the same thing as a class action suit, where a "class" of people are suing a defendant. The cool thing about class action suits is that if you weren't the one initiating the suit, usually you don't have to do anything but sign something to participate!

I did this a few years ago. I got something in the mail about a class action suit I was eligible for, so I signed it and sent it back. A few months later, I got a check in the mail. It was awesome!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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