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Mass tort litigation: How does it work?

When there is a large group of plaintiffs that was similarly harmed -- perhaps due to toxic exposure in a Minnesota neighborhood, or due to an investment fraud scheme perpetrated by a big bank -- a class action lawsuit was the traditional way to seek financial compensation for the victims. In recent decades, however, the mass tort litigation strategy proved to be an excellent strategy to try to get more money for the victims than would be possible otherwise.

Let's imagine the following personal injury scenario that a mass tort litigation strategy might work for. Imagine a diet pill became widely popular. Thousands of people took the pill and lost weight, but hundreds out of this group suffered devastating health consequences like heart attack, stroke and even death. It was later revealed that the pill comes with deadly side-effects and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) takes it off the market.

Among the victims who died or suffered severe health consequences, the factual scenario will be quite similar -- aside from the unique elements associated with each plaintiff's identity, personal information and injuries. Rather than file one class action lawsuit representing all the plaintiffs, a skilled mass tort attorney can devise a template pleading and flood the defense with hundreds of individual lawsuits -- of which the defense counsel must litigate individually. It is extremely costly and time-consuming for the defense to litigate this many cases, which helps bring pressure for the defense to settle.

The plaintiffs' attorneys will usually file a sampling of their best cases first, perhaps 80 out of 1,000 lawsuits. They will then litigate those claims to trial and examine the decisions and awards to establish a basis for global settlement negotiations that will apply to the entire group of remaining lawsuits.

At Consumer Justice Center in Pennsylvania, we have found that mass tort litigation -- when it is appropriately and successfully applied -- can bring better awards for the individual plaintiffs in some cases and, in other cases, a traditional class action suit is much more appropriate. If you're a member of a group that has been harmed, we're available to listen to your story to evaluate whether the mass tort litigation strategy could work for your situation.

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