A mass tort is a civil suit with a large group of plaintiffs suing a limited number of defendants for damages. The laws about mass torts vary and many regions have programs in place to administer and manage mass torts. Cases must be designated as such in order to qualify for administration under these programs. In a mass tort, hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs with cases of a similar nature may be involved.
Some common reasons for a mass tort to occur include disasters involving large numbers of people, product liability cases, and so-called toxic torts that involve exposure to toxins. In a mass tort, the cases of the plaintiffs are all similar, even if they are not exactly the same. For example, if a company is being sued for making a product that puts people at risk of finger amputation, plaintiffs could include people who have lost anything from single fingers to all of the fingers on one hand. However, someone injured by a separate product from the same manufacturer or in different circumstances would not be able to join the mass tort.
Litigating mass torts requires a highly coordinated legal team. Lawyers work with plaintiffs to collect supporting documentation, move through the discovery process to uncover documents and evidence from the defendants, and bring the case to trial or work out a settlement. At the conclusion of the case, if the jury agrees that the defendant is responsible, damages are awarded to the plaintiffs.
When lawyers suspect that they have a mass tort on their hands, one of the first steps they take is to seek out additional clients. For example, if a law firm has 200 people who experienced dangerous side effects from a medication, it might publish notices asking people who have taken that medication and had bad experiences to contact the firm. As the case progresses, notices can be sent out to people who might be eligible for damages to alert them to the fact that a mass tort is occurring and they can join the case to receive damages.
Some mass torts attract considerable attention because they involve popular or controversial products. Notably, a number of pharmaceutical companies have been sued by large groups of plaintiffs who have experienced problems with their medications. Mass torts have been used to force companies to clean up environmental pollution, to recover damages for family members of people who die in disasters, and to recover damages in a variety of other types of cases.