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Mass Tort vs. Class Action

Groups of plaintiffs filing grievances against a common defendant(s) may proceed as a class action or a mass tort to achieve efficiencies in discovery proceedings and efficiently use judicial resources. Consolidating the cases into one proceeding before a single judge, rather than maintaining separate lawsuits scattered across the country, provides greater consistency in the court rulings and makes it easier for the parties to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.    

Basic Differences Between Mass Tort vs. Class Action Administration

The basic difference between mass tort vs. class action administration involves the type of damages being claimed. With a mass tort, the legal system recognizes a group of individuals who have typically suffered a personal injury. Plaintiffs in a mass tort typically have a common set of liability facts against a common defendant, but each plaintiff must present their own unique set of facts including how they were harmed and the extent of their injuries. If successful, each plaintiff receives an individual award for their individual damages claim.

With a class action, the legal issues and damages sought must be amenable to common treatment — or at least similar enough to divide into tiers, with the same amount of damages going to all class members within each tier. Class action cases involve a class representative who stands in for the rest of the class. From an administrator’s perspective, a mass tort requires a more involved damages evaluation process than a class action.

When to Pursue Mass Tort Litigation

Mass torts are filed when there is a common grievance, but the damages or degree of damages sustained varies greatly from plaintiff to plaintiff, and therefore are not subject to class treatment. Mass torts are typically filed individually, with the potential for consolidation into Multi-District Litigation (MDL) depending on the number of individual plaintiffs filing against a single defendant. Cases included in MDLs benefit from common discovery, common pre-trial motions, and bellwether trial proceedings in a centralized location.

Mass torts are ideal in cases where:

  • Individual losses are due to personal injuries or real property damage.
  • Harm is therefore individualized and differs from person to person.

When to Pursue Class Action Litigation

Class action lawsuits must satisfy certain required elements. Before a class action complaint proceeds as a class action, a motion is filed in court petitioning for a particular class representative to stand on behalf of the entire class as the lead plaintiff. All absent class members must be notified of the class lawsuit in an adequate manner, as approved by the overseeing judge. Absent class members must fall within the class definition in the class action complaint and approved by the judge. Absent class members have the right to opt-out of the class action to pursue individual litigation. 

Class actions are ideal in cases where:

  • The class is numerous.
  • The common questions of law are the same.
  • The defenses that arise are typical.
  • The representatives can adequately protect the interests of the class.

The damages to the entire class, or subclasses are defined in the class action complaint claim, are subject to a common damages formula.

Representative Experience

Heffler Claims Group has considerable experience handling large-scale cases of both class action and mass tort claims. Here are just two examples:

The Columbia Gas explosion case in Massachusetts demonstrates our ability to deploy teams and provide a very personalized approach in complex class action cases. For example, Heffler set up a claims facility near the disaster to personally assist class member files their claims. Though Columbia Gas denied allegations that they over-pressurized the gas lines that led to an explosion, the company agreed to pay $143 million to settle the claim against them. Class members who experienced a nominal disruption of service are compensated differently than class members who experienced a major disruption of service. A court-approved compensation formula that considered geographic location, household size, length of displacement, and the nature of property damage were considered. Physical injuries or wrongful death claims were not part of this class settlement.     

Consider the Diet Drugs Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1203 that was consolidated in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Heffler served as the fund administrator in this $1.275 billion settlement fund. Our job included processing the claim forms of over 40,000 class members including a medical review by a participating physician of the members’ echocardiograms. The massive undertaking of our Technology Team included the creation of an electronic (and paper) proof of claim, an interactive website for class members to file those claims and receive updates, and a customized software program that read and collected all the reports of the participating physician.

Contact Heffler Claims Group for your Administrative Needs

Heffler Claims Group is a tremendous asset in the administration of either type of lawsuit. For over 50 years, we have blazed a trail in this industry and set the highest bar of excellence. Only we have the administrative know-how, experienced staff, access to media resources, and leading-edge technology to ensure that your complex aggregate litigation, whether it’s a mass tort or a class action, gets administered in the most professional and efficient manner possible. Our firm has a reputation for excellence in the most complicated cases involving asbestos, environmental damage, defective drugs, medical devices, consumer product failures, and other catastrophic injuries.

Contact us for a free consultation and to request a quote.

Mark Rapazzini
Mark Rapazzini consults with clients in the consumer, food and beverage, labor and employment, finance and mass tort practice areas. He has over 25 years of legal experience in cases ranging from individual personal injury litigation to class actions and complex mass torts. Mark also has over fourteen years of experience managing complex claims administration matters and has managed and supervised the administration of employment, securities, consumer, property, and various other types of class action settlements.


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