What is a Mass Tort?

Mass Tort Definition

The word “tort” comes from the Latin language and the word “torquere,” which translates as “twisted or wrong.” In the United States, a tort refers to a, “body of rights, obligations, and remedies that is applied by courts in civil proceedings to provide relief for persons who have suffered harm from the wrongful acts of others.” These defendants who sustain some form of injury, suffer permanent damage, or dies due to wrong actions from the plaintiff, is guaranteed a day in court thanks to tort law. When there is more than one plaintiff in a case involving one defendant, this can be a mass tort.

When Does Mass Tort Happen?

The three main types of mass tort cases include:

  1. Mass disaster torts – When a natural disaster strikes, as Hurricane Katrina did in New Orleans, there are many who suffer injury to person and property. A mass disaster tort allows for those who have been hurt by extreme weather, earthquakes, or other “acts of God” to recover damages.
  1. Mass toxic torts – When a manmade disaster or hazardous case of pollution occurs, plaintiffs can suffer damage to their health, as well as their property. These plaintiffs may file a mass toxic tort, and two of the most famous examples include The Citizens of Hinkley vs. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and those on the Gulf Coast who filed suit against BP Petroleum after the disastrous oil well explosion and spill in 2010.
  1. Product liability torts – When a defective product is let on to the market and causes injury to numerous people, they may file a product liability mass tort. Under federal product liability law, manufacturers of defective or dangerous products can be responsible for any and all injuries caused by their product, including defective medical devices and prescription drugs.

How Does Mass Tort Work?

A group of plaintiffs cannot file for a mass tort on their own, but if they have good legal representation, they can find other plaintiffs and consolidate the cases. Once enough plaintiffs are gathered, they must file for permission to conduct a mass tort from a court. The court will take into account the number of plaintiffs, the similarities in the nature and cause of their injuries, the geographical location of the plaintiffs, and how closely the claims resemble each other. If the court believes that these and other factors are sufficient, they may proceed to order a mass tort action and even publish notice of the action across the nation so other potential plaintiffs may join the suit.