At Trammell PC, we represent people who have been injured by medications, devices, and products that were supposed to help them. By their nature, these are almost always mass torts that bring together thousands of individuals who were affected in the same way by the drug, device, or product. In this blog post, we’d like to explain how lawyers and courts handle these kinds of very large-scale lawsuits, and how their large size affects discovery—the process of gathering evidence for a lawsuit.
What is a Mass Tort?
A tort is a legal term for a wrongful act. These wrongful acts can give rise to a lawsuit, should the injured person choose to pursue litigation. During the course of a lawsuit, one person or entity explains in detail why they believe it is true that another person or entity caused him or her harm, and requests either some kind of action or monetary payment in compensation for that harm. The jury or judge in the case reviews the evidence presented by both sides, and then decides whether there was harm and, if so, what the redress should be.
Mass tort litigation is the same thing, just on an enormous scale. In the context of mass tort litgiation, a large number of people who were injured by the same medication, device, or product sue the entities responsible for creating and distributing that medication, device, or product. The individual cases filed are all handled together, since they have so many similarities. With our Essure litigiation, for example, many women who were injured by a defective Essure birth control device sued Bayer, the maker of the device.
A mass tort is not a class action, in which lots of people are all the plaintiffs together in a single lawsuit. Rather, mass tort litigation consists of a collection of hundreds or thousands of individual lawsuits. Those lawsuits are eventually grouped by the courts and brought before the same judge in a single venue. Since trying all of those cases individually could take many years, courts frequently pick out a few cases they believe are representative and hold trials for those cases. The results of those trials give both sides an idea of how other cases like them might go, and that knowledge helps both sides decide whether to settle and what the cases are worth.
How Do Lawyers Gather Evidence in Mass Torts?
In a lawsuit with a single plaintiff, lawyers must gather evidence to prove up a plaintiff’s injuries. Lawyers do the same thing in the context of mass tort litigation—but because of the enormous volume of cases, this is much more complicated. They must gather the evidence to prove each plaintiff’s injuries. They must also gather complex scientific information about how the drug, device, or product affects the human body.
Evidence-gathering can take a long time because of:
- The sheer amount of information required to fully prepare each individual plaintiff’s case;
- Finding experts in medical science, economics, and other fields, who can explain how the injuries took place or how they affected the injured people’s lives;
- Arguments with the other side about whether those experts are qualified;
- Travel to meetings; mass torts are usually nationwide and may be based in any federal trial court; and
- Resistance by the other side to releasing information, or releases of huge amounts of information (“document dumps”) that takes a lot of time for lawyers to sort through.
For clients, this means it’s important to comply with any requests for documents—but it’s also important to be patient. For instance, in the Essure action, the judge recently issued an order whereby selected plaintiffs are required to complete additional discovery, including undergoing depositions and answering written discovery issued by the defendant.
Where to go for help?
At Trammell PC, we work with thousands of clients who are eager for a resolution and adequate compensation, so they can make ends meet and move past their injuries. We do our utmost to get our clients the compensation they deserve and have settled thousands of cases for clients across the county. If you have questions about an injury you or a loved one sustained as a result of a medication, device, or product, we would be happy to talk to you about the injuries sustained. We can be reached during normal business hours at 800-405-1740 or you can email us at any time.