Anyone can file a lawsuit. To do so, a person files a complaint in court. They allege someone else – a person or company – hurt them in some way. They assert legal claims such as negligence or unfair business practices. In some cases, there are many people who suffered similar injuries and damages from the same defendant.
In such cases, people have a few choices. They can file individual lawsuits and go at it alone. They can file individual lawsuits and then combine or consolidate them together. That happens a lot with mass torts – cases involving large numbers of people injured by the same product, person, or conduct.
Mass torts cases get consolidated in state or federal court. In federal court, there is a special process through a Court called the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. That Court forms multidistrict litigations, or MDLs. “The job of the Panel is to 1) determine whether civil actions pending in different federal districts involve one or more common questions of fact such that the actions should be transferred to one federal district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings; and 2) select the judge or judges and court assigned to conduct such proceedings.”
Another options is to combining claims into a class action lawsuit. This is a particularly good option where there are smaller value claims where the cost of bringing one lawsuit outweighs the benefits. Sometimes businesses deceive consumers and the damages per individual are too small to justify individual lawsuits because of the costs involved – filing fees, experts, discovery, trial. Attorneys may not take the case on a contingency basis and their hourly fees would be too expensive to justify the lawsuit. A class action provides a necessary mechanism to hold the person responsible.
Mass torts and class actions are more efficient than litigating each lawsuit individually. In a mass tort, plaintiffs file individual lawsuits. They provide some initial discovery, usually plaintiff profile forms and/or fact sheets. A group of attorneys litigate common issues like the defendants’ liability and causation – proving the product at issue can cause certain injuries through experts and other scientific evidence. There are initial trials, called bellwether trials, that hope to resolve the rest of the cases by informing the parties about how a judge and jury is likely to respond to the evidence. They often settle through global or group settlements whereby people receive an offer for being in a specific category that is usually based on the relationship between the product and their medical history. They can reject it and continue in litigation to trial.
In a class action, an attorney or group of attorneys represent a class representative, a person who stands in the shoes of all the other similarly situated people, called class members. Only that person files a lawsuit. They litigate the case and negotiate settlements with the defendants. Class members then opt-in or opt-out of the proposed settlement. They never participate in the litigation and are not part of the settlement decision. They simply get to accept it or reject it.
These kinds of lawsuits require knowledgeable, experienced lawyers. The lawyers at KBA are mass tort lawyers and have handled several class action suits.