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Mass Torts and Class Action Lawsuits


The terms “class action” and “mass torts” are often used interchangeably, or perhaps more accurately, mass tort actions are often called class actions. Both legal actions have similarities: 

  • Plaintiffs are a group of people who share the same complaint or grievance. 
  • Lawsuits are consolidated into one legal action. 

Although they share similarities, mass torts and class actions are distinctly different legal actions, which are further explained below. Throughout the country, both mass torts and class actions are on the rise. Plaintiffs’ counsel increasingly use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to notify potential claimants of investigations and actions, and encourage participation in litigation. 

In mass torts and class actions, attorney fees are typically on a contingency fee basis. If the legal action is not successful in recovering money, the plaintiffs typically owe nothing. The lawyers handling the claim are usually paid through a percentage of the settlement. 

What Is a Class Action? 

Class actions are common in consumer disputes, false advertising, and excess billing. In a class action lawsuit, an individual may seek financial relief for something that would be too expensive to pursue independently. In an example scenario, if 10,000 people were deceptively charged $50 in excessive fees for a service, the company that charged the $50 fee would profit $500,000. However, if each of the individuals harmed wanted to individually hire a lawyer and file a claim in court, this would cost them substantially more than they could ever recover in damages. 

A class action lawsuit allows a group of individuals to jointly recover for their damages. Class actions protect consumers and hold companies and employers accountable. Trial courts must determine if proposed class action settlements are fair, adequate, and reasonable. In some cases, the time spent filling out a single claim may not seem worthwhile; however, it’s important to consider the strength of the group to hold a wrongdoer accountable. The more parties that join an action, the more viable a claim will be. 

Class Action Case Example 

The Target data breach case is an example of a large class action lawsuit. During the 2013 holiday season, hackers stole personal information and credit and debit card data of millions of Target customers. Customers who provided proof of losses were later reimbursed for their losses. 

2020 Class Action Cases 

Some of the class action lawsuits we are currently following or investigating include: 

  • Wells Fargo Mortgage Forbearance Cases: A complaint filed in 2020 alleged that Wells Fargo placed certain customers’ mortgages into forbearance under the CARES Act. This occurred in 14 states, including Florida. The result of this action meant that even when borrowers remained current on payments, credit agencies did not receive reports that borrowers were remaining current. The borrowers’ principal residence mortgage was shown as in forbearance status, which lenders consider delinquent. Wells Fargo received $500 to $1,000 in incentive payments for placing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages into forbearance. 
  • Hyatt Gratuity Cases: A proposed class action complaint was filed in Florida in October 2020, alleging Hyatt tacked on 20 percent gratuities for food and beverages, without providing adequate notice to patrons. 
  • COVID-19 Class Actions: COVID-19 Class actions: Numerous class actions have been filed due to COVID-19 issues, including:
    • Mandatory cancellation of short-term vacation rentals; 
    • Delivery fees for food deliveries;
    • Overpriced hand sanitizer and toilet paper; 
    • Failure to return student fees for cancelled university classes;
    • Failure to return monthly gym membership dues when people have not been able to access gyms.

What Is a Mass Tort? 

Mass tort cases are common actions for people who have been harmed by toxic contaminants, dangerous products, defective drugs, and harmful medical devices. Typically, they involve someone being physically injured. Well known mass tort cases over the years have involved the following: 

  • Exposure to Agent Orange herbicide in Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War caused major health problems. 
  • Wearing Skechers Shape-ups toning shoes caused ankle injuries and hip fractures.
  • Taking Vioxx pain medications caused heart attack and stroke deaths. 
  • Exposure to asbestos caused pleural mesothelioma. 

Mass torts involve individual damage awards. For example, if 100 people were injured by a dangerous workout product, someone who suffered an ankle strain in their right ankle would most likely recover much less money than someone who broke both of their ankles. 

Mass Tort Example: Opioid Overdose Cases 

In November 2020, the New York Times reported that 232,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses from 1999 through 2018. Pharmaceutical companies have been sued for manipulative marketing tactics and pushing doctors to prescribe drugs. Painkiller addiction has caused many people to become addicted to illegal opioids like heroin and the extremely dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl. 

Current Mass Tort Litigation 

Below are some of the mass tort cases we are monitoring and following. 

  • Smile Direct Club: If you used Smile Direct Club aligners to straighten your teeth and the aligners caused damage to your mouth, you may be entitled to a refund, damages for dental care, and pain and suffering. 
  • 3M Military Earplugs: If you served in the military between 2003 and 2015 and suffered hearing loss from 3M dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs, you may be entitled to compensation for your hearing loss, medical bills, and pain and suffering. 
  • Zantac: People who took Zantac heartburn medication have been diagnosed with cancer. Drug manufacturer Sanofi alleged the medicine was safe and effective. It has since been pulled from the market by the FDA. 
  • JUUL e-cigarettes: JUUL Labs marketed vapes with sweet flavors like mango and cucumber and bright colors to teenagers. Marketing them as “the alternative to cigarettes,” with “natural and artificial flavoring,” it was implied that e-cigarettes were less addictive and healthier. 

If you have questions about your eligibility for a mass tort lawsuit, contact us for a free consultation. 

Do You Need a Lawyer? 

Although there are many benefits to class actions and mass torts, it is always advisable to speak with an attorney before joining a legal action. In some circumstances, giving up your right to pursue an individual claim may not be the best route. To speak to an attorney about your legal rights and options, call Shrader Mendez & O’Connell, to discuss your potential case.