The Mass Tort Machine: How law firms profit by suing businesses over questionable science
A mass tort is a type of civil action consisting of numerous individual plaintiffs alleging injury from a defective and dangerous product or a specific incident. Mass tort cases are often made against varying medical devices, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, and household products. Mass torts commonly fall into one of the following categories: agricultural torts, defective medical device torts, defective product torts, disaster torts, pharmaceutical torts, and toxic (dangerous or lethal chemicals) torts. Recent cases have involved Roundup weed killer, talcum-based baby powder, and the blood thinners Pradaxa and Xarelto.
Mass tort cases—like class action suits—involve a large number of plaintiffs alleging similar injury from a single product or incident. However, unlike class action suits, each mass tort case is filed individually because of the severity and types of damages the plaintiffs are each alleging can be quite different. If the cases are settled, each mass tort plaintiff will receive a different amount based on their alleged injuries—unlike class actions, in which all plaintiffs of a single case receive awards equally. Typically, mass tort plaintiffs allege that they have suffered a serious injury that has resulted in thousands of dollars in medical bills, lost wages, and physical and emotional suffering.
Courts have increasingly utilized mass processing methods—including mass torts, class action suits, and multidistrict litigation—to increase efficiency with the legal process, ensure consistent rulings between a large number of related individual complaints, reduce backlogs, and reduce court costs.
Mass torts, which are intended to help balance the asymmetry of resources between corporations and individuals and deliver justice to legitimately injured individuals, have instead become a playground for lawyers, investors, and advertising companies to extort billions of dollars from businesses based on ambiguous, distorted or faulty scientific claims. The asymmetric nature of mass tort cases, the complicated science, medical terminology and devices, and the diversity of the claimant injuries creates an incentive for law firms to use fear-based tactics that require companies to make costly “science versus settle” decisions. In other words, companies whose products have been deemed safe by independent regulatory agencies often still settle with allegedly injured claimants because it is less costly than litigation. The real losers are the millions of American consumers who are forced to pay higher prices for products and the businesses who must decide based upon the risks of frivolous litigation, not science, whether to invest in new technologies, therapies, and other life-saving products.