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What are mass torts?

Mass torts are essentially a type of personal injury case generally involving a defective product or dangerous condition that caused injury to people. In California, mass tort cases may involve things such as pharmaceutical litigation, product liability, class action suits, defective medical devices and injuries associated with chemical exposure.

Mass tort cases differ from regular product liability cases in two important ways, however. First, mass torts are characterized by a number of cases being filed with a high commonality of circumstances. This means that the circumstances of injury, the products allegedly related to the injury and the defendants in the cases are the same or similar.

Second, mass tort cases are often interdependent, which leads to a combining of resources and cases into larger legal actions. A small number of law firms may work together to file numerous lawsuits, and these suits are usually combined and handled by a single court. While this allows plaintiffs to make use of the same subject-matter experts and other resources, it also potentially ties the success of each plaintiff to the others.

Mass torts can be difficult to resolve due to conflicts among plaintiffs, problems with aggregating unique cases and issues regarding the possibility of future plaintiffs and injuries. Such issues don't make mass torts impossible. However, an understanding of complex personal injury law is necessary to succeed. A knowledge of the court systems, relationships with other attorneys and experience in mass litigation are also helpful to achieving a positive outcome.

Individuals don't have to decide whether their case is a mass tort. The first step is deciding whether your personal injuries involve a basis for claims or a lawsuit.

Source: Rand Corporation, "Understanding Mass Personal Injury Litigation" Sep. 26, 2014

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