Mass torts

In the State of Florida, many people affected by defective products or toxic exposure will have their claims resolved through mass tort litigation. Mass torts are a type of civil action in which many plaintiffs have their cases consolidated before one judge. The consolidation makes it possible for one judge to make decisions on issues relevant to all claims arising against the same defendant out of the same issues.

Mass torts are not class actions, because in mass torts, each individual plaintiff whose case is consolidated will still retain his or her own independent claim. In a class action, there is one big consolidated case in which all plaintiffs’ claims are grouped together.

Mass torts are common in product liability cases. Mass torts can also arise after hundreds or thousands of people suffer toxic exposure. Examples of mass tort litigation which has taken place in recent years include transvaginal mesh cases and cases connected with the blood thinner Xarelto.

When plaintiffs throughout the United States bring multiple claims against a product manufacturer or company responsible for toxic exposure, the cases may all be collected to be heard in one of 300 different federal multi-district litigation dockets. These mass tort cases are called multi-district litigation.

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation sets forth the rules for consolidation of cases in federal court. A motion must be submitted to the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to transfer the individual cases and consolidate them. The motion must consist of at least two actions in two different federal district courts which raise common questions.

Cases from different districts around the state can also be consolidated in state court. For example, if hundreds of people throughout Florida are harmed because a widely-used new mosquito spray is toxic, individual plaintiffs could file cases in the local courts within their county. The cases could all be consolidated in one mass tort case in Florida.

The judge who presides over the consolidated cases could then make one ruling on common issues applicable to all cases; such as whether a piece of scientific testimony will be admissible in all individual plaintiff’s trials. Each plaintiff retains his or her own case.

In mass tort litigation, bellwether or test cases usually move forward first. This is a representative sample of cases. The decisions made by the jury or judge in bellwether cases can guide the settlement negotiation process. Mass torts make both settlement and litigation easier and more timely.