Many people have heard of class action lawsuits but are less familiar with the phrase mass torts. A class action lawsuit is a type of claim filed on behalf of an entire group of people who share the same set of unfortunate circumstances, injuries and damages. In order to form a class action lawsuit, the case must have several characteristics and must meet certain criteria. The people affected by a class action lawsuit must be notified of the lawsuit and given the choice to either opt in or opt out and pursue their own claim. Ultimately, the party looking to represent the class plaintiffs must file a motion with the court and a judge ultimately decides if creating a class action on any given issue is allowed to go forward.
Mass tort claims are lawsuits which involve numerous plaintiffs against one or a few defendants filed in either a state or federal court. The lawsuits arise out of the defendant(s) causing numerous injuries through the same or similar act of harm. They often involve situations where consumers are injured on a large scale by a defective drug or product. Unlike a class action, where the injured party’s injuries are the same as other members of the class, in a mass tort case, the injuries suffered by a plaintiff, although maybe somewhat similar, are often wide ranging and more individualized.
An example of a mass tort case which has been in the news recently, are the claims against Monsanto, the manufacturer of the weed-killer Roundup. Roundup contains a chemical know as glyphosate which some research has linked to cancer. Roundup is the world’s most popular and widely used herbicide. It is used on a large scale by farmers trying to protect their crops and in smaller quantities by individuals who apply it around their homes or business to control weeds.
In the case of DeWayne Johnson v. Monsanto Co., filed in the Superior Court, County of San Francisco, California, the Plaintiff claimed that he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of his use of Roundup and exposure to glyphosate. Mr. Johnson testified that he had sprayed hundreds of gallons of Roundup in the course of his employment as a grounds keeper while working for a Benicia, California school district. In 2014 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In July 2017, after undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments, his oncologist gave him six months to live.
Monsanto claims that glyphosate is safe and cite to several published studies that they claim support their position. Plaintiffs contended that many of the studies relied upon by Monsanto were funded by Monsanto and therefore were purposely skewed in Monsanto’s favor. Plaintiffs instead pointed to a study published in 2015 by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which found that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, “is probably carcinogenic to humans.” Plaintiff’s lawyers further argued that Monsanto’s scientists knew of the risk of cancer going as far back as the 1970s but failed to inform the public and instead engaged in a deliberate effort to distort the truth.
After hearing the testimony of witnesses for both sides, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Johnson awarding him $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to punish the company for a total verdict of $289 million dollars.
Many other people have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which they believe may have been caused by use and exposure to Roundup. However, each of these potential plaintiff’s damages are different as each person may receive different treatment for their form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and each person may have a different response to their treatment. The reason that these cases give rise to a mass tort type of case is that the cause of their injuries (some form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) has been caused by the same or similar act of harm, exposure to Monsanto’s roundup product.
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