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A Class Action Lawsuit / Multidistrict Litigation (Mass Tort): Yes, There is a Difference

By January 31, 2020March 1st, 2024Legal 101

Class Action Lawsuit vs. Multidistrict Litigation:

When I went to law school over 20 years ago, I walked into a class called Torts and had no clue that tort meant “a wrongful act,” so you can imagine how confused I was –I mean EVERYTHING in that class at first sounded Greek to me. I mean a tort, really?  

Thankfully, now, as a mass torts attorney who represents plaintiffs against manufacturers of defective medical devices or dangerous medications, I know more about torts than I ever thought imaginable, and so I hope to shed some light on this area of law for people considering taking legal action. But deciding how to proceed is like trying to ask directions in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.

Why is there so much confusion in this area? I’d say most of it comes from the fact that two of the major ways people can sue a manufacturer are often used interchangeably online when in fact, they are two separate and distinct ways to bring a case. Both are technically “mass torts” because they are “mass wrongful acts,”  yet these two ways – joining a class action lawsuit or getting your case filed in an MDL (multi-district litigation) work differently and have different results, so it is important to know the difference when deciding how to move forward with your case.

What is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action is a lawsuit filed on behalf of a large number of plaintiffs with similar complaints; however, each person does not have an individual case, rather the entire case is brought on behalf of the class as a single unit. In a class action, the main attorneys are in charge of presenting a single case to a jury that has a few individual plaintiffs at the forefront representing the whole class. The people who are not the plaintiffs who are in front of the jury in the case still must sign up to be a part of the settling class.

This class action will result in one verdict, and that verdict will apply to everyone who qualified to be in the “class.” The court’s decision will be binding on ALL the participants of the class action, regardless of individual circumstances – injury type, age, or other distinct factors do not matter in this case. Whatever compensation the jury decides should be given (or not) is binding on all the class, and whatever amount is awarded will be split among everybody involved equally.

A class action is likely the best way to go when what happened to you is the exact same thing that has happened to hundreds of others and the injury is not life-threatening. 

Multidistrict Litigation and Mass Torts

Similar to a class action, a multidistrict litigation case (MDL) involves a large number of people who are injured in similar ways by the same medication or by the same medical device or implant.

However, if a person signs up to be in an MDL, each plaintiff has his or her own attorney and his or her own individualized lawsuit that is reviewed on its own merits. An attorney will likely represent a large number of plaintiffs in the case, but each plaintiff’s case will be settled on its own merits.

These types of cases are filed nationally, meaning the case might not be filed in your state. Don’t worry, though. Most plaintiffs do not have to go to court; rather most often all the work with the lawyers can be done on the phone or via computer and mail.

Near the beginning of the litigation, the nationally filed cases will be consolidated before one judge for all proceedings. So why are the cases consolidated? This consolidation is done for what I like to call “judicial economy” in that it saves everyone a lot of time and money. Imagine trying to come up with the money on your own to sue a big company like Bayer (Bayer has endless income and would bankrupt almost anyone trying to fight them alone). By the plaintiffs joining together to build a case against the giant corporation, the plaintiffs stand a much better chance of winning their cases.

The consolidation does not mean the case results will be the same as they are in class actions. In a mass tort filed in an MDL, factors like type of injury, age, and pre-existing conditions will all be factored into each case, and each person will end up with their own settlement if they win based on their own circumstances. Compensation for injuries in a mass tort most likely will be much larger than awards in a class action. (It’s also important to note that these cases are handled on contingency fee, meaning that if they aren’t won, you won’t have to pay the attorney anything!)

An MDL (or mass tort) is likely the best way to go when the injuries you suffered vary in some way from other people’s injuries but were caused by a similar product.

Deciding whether to join a class action or be involved in an MDL is a decision that will need to be made when deciding to move forward with litigation. We at A Case for Women will help you understand and access the legal action you need.

We want you to know that we don’t just focus on helping individual women; we also focus on making changes that help society as a whole. 

For example, as a result of the Essure legal action (filed in an MDL) , this product was banned in the United States, and the women in the lawsuit hope to get compensation for their injuries caused by the product.

Please call or email us at A Case for Women anytime, and we can help direct you to get the legal help you need.