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Benefits of Filing a Mass Tort Claim

When a large group of people are injured by the same product or event, they may want to file a mass tort claim.

This type of lawsuit is different from a class action in that each plaintiff has an individual claim and may receive his or her own trial. The benefits of filing a mass tort claim include the possibility of receiving a higher recovery than in a class action, as well as the benefit of having one’s case heard by a judge quickly. If you have been injured and are considering whether to file a mass tort claim, read on to learn more about the advantages of taking this legal action.

Key Benefits

There are numerous benefits of filing a mass tort claim, as opposed to a class action or individual personal injury claim lawsuit.

Mass tort claims are typically filed against corporations or other large businesses, such as manufacturers of defective products, pharmaceutical companies, and utility companies. Filing a mass tort claims lets victims pool their resources, and have a greater chance against large entities.

Another benefit is that you may receive a higher recovery in a mass tort than you would otherwise, such as in a class action. This is because each victim in a mass tort is considered individually, as opposed to being lumped together with other plaintiffs in a class action. As a result, victims in mass tort actions often recover more money than those who file class action lawsuits.

Yet another benefit of the mass tort process is that it is often quicker and less costly than the alternative procedures. This is because the investigation and preparation that goes into one case can often be transferred to another, greatly increasing the speed of the proceedings. Given the tremendous resources often required for these complex case, from medical research and forensics to highly knowledgeable experts, this is a key advantage.

By consolidating their claims into one lawsuit, the plaintiffs can also share the costs of litigating the case, and increase their chances of recovering damages. In fact, most of these cases are handled by lawyers on a completely contingent fee basis, so that the victims of the torts need not pay the attorney in the event they do not win their case. However, because the costs of these cases must be borne by law firms working essentially for free before a settlement or jury verdict is obtained, they are more likely to take your case because of such cost reducing measures.

High Dollar Settlements and Jury Verdicts

While each mass tort case is different, plaintiffs have on many occasions obtained very large settlements through their lawyers. Here are notable examples of high dollar settlements.

1. In 2014, the family of a man who suffered a heart attack after taking the painkiller Vioxx was awarded $1.67 million by a New Jersey jury.

2. In 2013, a woman who suffered debilitating injuries after she was implanted with a faulty medical device was awarded $23.5 million by a Texas jury.

3. In 2012, more than 700 residents of the New York neighborhood of Hoosick Falls who were harmed by pollution from a local manufacturing plant settled their claims for $850 million.

4. In 2011, the family of a man who died after taking the painkiller Bextra settled their wrongful death claim against Pfizer for $1 billion.

5. In 2010, a jury in Louisiana awarded $9.6 million to the family of a man who died after taking the painkiller Celebrex.

6. In 2009, Merck & Co. agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle claims that its painkiller Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes.

7. In 2008, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals agreed to pay $750 million to settle lawsuits alleging that its antidepressant Effexor caused birth defects.

8. In 2007, GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay $3 billion to settle federal criminal and civil charges that it illegally marketed antidepressants for unapproved uses and failed to report safety data about a diabetes drug.

9. In 2006, a jury in Texas awarded $253 million to the family of a man who died after taking Pfizer’s painkiller Bextra.

10. In 2005, Merck & Co. agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle claims that its painkiller Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes.

11. In 2004, Pfizer agreed to pay $430 million to settle federal criminal and civil charges that it illegally marketed the painkiller Bextra for unapproved uses.

12. In 2003, Bayer AG agreed to pay $400 million to settle lawsuits alleging that its birth control pill Yaz caused blood clots.

13. In 2002, Eli Lilly and Company agreed to pay $700 million to settle federal criminal and civil charges that it illegally marketed the antidepressant Prozac for unapproved uses.

14. In 2001, AstraZeneca agreed to pay $355 million to settle federal criminal and civil charges that it illegally marketed the antipsychotic drug Seroquel for unapproved uses.

15. In 2000, Pfizer agreed to pay $491 million to settle lawsuits alleging that its antibiotic Zithromax caused heart problems.

16. In 1999, Bristol-Myers Squibb agreed to pay $625 million to settle federal criminal and civil charges that it illegally promoted the cancer drug Taxol for unapproved uses.

17. In 1998, Pfizer agreed to pay $1 billion to settle lawsuits alleging that its antibiotic Trovan caused liver damage.

18. In 1997, Pfizer agreed to pay $420 million to settle federal criminal and civil charges that it illegally promoted the painkiller Celebrex for unapproved uses.

19. In 1996, Pfizer agreed to pay $190 million to settle lawsuits alleging that its antibiotic Zithromax caused heart problems.

20. In 1995, AstraZeneca agreed to pay $110 million to settle federal criminal and civil charges that it illegally marketed the antipsychotic drug Seroquel for unapproved uses.

How Joining a Settlement Benefits You

Many victims of mass torts stand to benefit from joining a settlement achieved with the defendant. This is because the individual plaintiff in a mass tort case is often not able to recover the full amount of damages he or she deserves. The resources required, in terms of attorney work hours and talent, procuring technology and medical experts with stellar reputations, discovery tactics and strategy, not to mention the patience of dealing with a multi-year litigation are taxing to even the largest firms. The collective, group effort nature of mass tort cases allows plaintiffs and their individual lawyers to join the pack, which brings considerably more power and resources to bear than going it alone. By joining a settlement, plaintiffs can recover a larger sum of money than they would if they filed an individual lawsuit.

Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)

To make all of the claims manageable, in the federal courts there is a consolidation procedure known as a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL). The MDL process was designed to provide a more efficient way to handle personal injury cases that involve large numbers of plaintiffs. By consolidating all of the pretrial proceedings in one federal district court, the MDL process helps to save time and resources. During the pretrial phase, the court will typically handle gathering evidence during the discovery process, motions to dismiss the case, motions for summary judgment, evidentiary challenges, depositions and interrogatories, and settlement offers. If the case does not settle during these pretrial proceedings, it is then transferred back to the district court from which it originated for the trial. This helps to ensure that each case receives the individual attention it deserves while still allowing for efficiency in the handling of these types of cases.

If a particular case does not settle during the pretrial phase, it is transferred back to the district court from which it originated for the trial. The district court then reviews the case and sets a trial date. If the case is still not settled, it proceeds to trial. During the trial, both sides present their evidence and witnesses. The jury then deliberates and renders a verdict. If either side is dissatisfied with the verdict, they may appeal the decision. The appeals process can be lengthy, so most cases are settled during the pretrial phase.

Selecting Leadership & Bellwether Cases

Since it is not feasible or warranted to have perhaps hundreds of lawyers representing thousands of individual plaintiffs, in MDLs a leadership team who will perform the ins-and-outs of the litigation are selected for both plaintiffs and defendants. The lawyers comprising the leadership team represent collectively all of the individual plaintiffs or defendants, as the case may be, who each have their own lawyers.

And since it is not possible to try all of the cases individually, bellwether cases are selected. Bellwether cases are used in mass tort claims lawsuits because they help to gauge how juries will react to the evidence and testimony. These cases also help to settle other claims that may be similar in nature. Often, bellwether cases are chosen because they involve injuries that are similar to those of other plaintiffs in the mass tort claim. By litigating these cases first, both sides can get a better understanding of what types of damages may be awarded and how likely it is that future plaintiffs will be successful in their claims.

Lawyers chosen for lead roles in leadership are typically the ones who fund discovery and handle the majority of day-to-day legal work for the case, such as taking depositions, filing motions, and working to procure settlement negotiations. There is fee splitting between the lawyers as well, with the leadership team receiving so-called “common-benefit fees” from the settlements of all plaintiffs’ cases, with the plaintiffs’ own lawyers receiving the remainder of the lawyers fees. Ultimately, judges like to ensure that cases are properly managed and that everyone understands their role in the proceedings.

Since justice delayed is justice denied, as the saying goes, the goal is to ensure resolution to the satisfaction of all parties and that settlements occur in a semblance of a reasonable time frame.