What is a Mass Tort?

A mass tort simply means bringing together multiple plaintiffs who have a similar claim or have experienced an action that causes injury to many people. This generally happens when a group of people experiences similar injuries or damages by an employer or business.  For example, a claim could be against a manufacturer or corporation for a product defect or harmful exposure that injures or economically affects a larger group of consumers.

These plaintiffs do not have to physically come together to file a mass tort claim. In fact, the plaintiffs do not have to file at the same time and may not all be named during the lawsuit. Mass Tort lawsuits often involve thousands of cases consolidated before one judge into multi-district litigations (MDLs), and our attorneys are regularly appointed to leadership positions within the MDLs.

Contents


Common Types of Mass Tort Cases

There are four main types of mass tort cases:

  • Product Liability/Defective Products
  • Natural Disasters 
  • Exposure to Toxic Substances
  • Large Scale Catastrophes

Product Liability:

One of the most common types of mass tort claims is product liability cases. In these cases, products that we expect to be safe for our everyday use (such as cars, medical devices, household products, etc.)  are in fact dangerous and defective. Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that their products are safe and provide adequate information to their consumers, and if they fail in this duty, injured customers can and should hold these entities responsible.

There are three main types of product liability mass torts.

Manufacturing defects: When a product suffers a defect during the manufacturing process that makes it dangerous to use. This could happen in a physical product or in the manufacturing of a pharmaceutical drug.

Design defects: When a defect is present in the product design and the product is inherently dangerous yet allowed to go to market. A common instance of design defects has been seen with medical devices.

Failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions: When a manufacturer fails to inform customers of hazards that can be experienced while using a product, leading to injuries. For example, drugs may cause unintended, dangerous side effects that a manufacturer is aware of but fails to warn consumers or physicians.

Natural Disasters:

A common type of mass tort claim involves natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes that cause significant damages and injuries. Obviously, no one entity is to blame for a natural disaster, which makes these types of mass tort claims complex. However, insurance companies often fail to pay out claims following natural disasters leaving their customers who have diligently paid their premiums without the support they need. When this happens to many individuals, a mass tort action can help hold the insurance company accountable.

Exposure to Toxic Substances:

Also known as mass toxic torts, these claims involve injury or illness due to chemical or toxin exposure. Some examples include dangerous chemicals in the workplace, toxic mold in an office or home, or exposure to toxins in pharmaceutical drugs.

Large Scale Catastrophes

Man-made disasters, such as a natural gas explosion of an apartment complex or a fire within a multi-household complex, can cause injury to dozens or even hundreds of people. While the extent of injuries may differ by person, the same entity is typically the cause of the disaster. In these cases, victims can form a mass tort to secure compensation for their individual needs without filing separate, time-consuming claims.


Settlement Process in a Mass Tort Case

Mass Tort cases are handled in a variety of ways, meaning there is no one size fits all process for settlements. In the case of multi-district litigation (MDL), a settlement is structured in a way that each plaintiffs’ case facts are evaluated to understand factors such as length of exposure, causation, injuries, and damages. From there, each plaintiff has the right to make their own decision on whether they want to settle after hearing what their proposed compensation will be.

However, if a group settlement cannot be reached, everyone involved in the mass tort case will need to have their individual cases either tried or settled. Oftentimes a judge will allow bellwether cases to be tried in front of juries to determine a reasonable value of the cases. These jury trials will then inform what the settlement offers will be for other plaintiffs.  If a lawsuit is successful and it is determined that the plaintiffs involved are entitled to compensation, other potential plaintiffs who have suffered similar injuries are not without recourse. The judge will identify parameters for additional plaintiffs to file a claim and receive compensation.


Mass Tort vs. Class Action Lawsuit

Mass tort and class action claims have some similarities in that they both involve multiple plaintiffs against one entity but they have their own unique qualities. 

The biggest difference between class action suits and mass tort suits is how the plaintiffs are identified, defined and how their cases are treated. With a class action lawsuit, the group of plaintiffs must be certified as to having experienced very similar circumstances and damages. For plaintiffs in mass tort cases, each individual has experienced different damages or injuries and they are evaluated based on their individual damages.

Class action lawsuits typically include a group of plaintiffs who have experienced some sort of breach of data, credit card fraud, or overcharge for merchandise or services.  Oftentimes the individual damages for these cases aren’t enough to warrant a lawsuit but when victims join together they can help hold those responsible accountable. 


Mass Tort Case Results

Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill – $29 million in individual claims; $1 billion for the state of Alabama

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig located in the Gulf of Mexico began leaking oil after a major explosion which is now regarded as one of the largest environmental disasters in world history.

Originally built by South Korean company Hyundai Heavy Industries and owned by Transocean, at the time of the disaster the rig was chartered to BP to drill a deep exploratory well.

The explosion occurred when high-pressure methane gas from the well expanded into the marine riser and rose into the drilling rig, where it ignited and exploded, engulfing the platform. Eleven missing workers were never found despite a three-day U.S. Coast Guard search operation and are believed to have died in the explosion.

Ninety-four crew members were rescued by lifeboat or helicopter, 17 of whom were treated for injuries. The Deepwater Horizon sank on the morning of April 22, 2010.

It is estimated that over 3 million barrels of oil spilled as a result of the explosion affecting 70,000 square miles of ocean. Eventually, the oil made its way to the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and even as far as Texas. The affected spill area is host to over 8,000 species of animals. The environmental impacts alone were devastating to the area and were magnified by the economic impact of lost jobs and tourism.

In January 2011, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released a final report finding that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean had attempted to work more cheaply and thus helped to trigger the explosion and ensuing leakage.

Attorney Jeffrey Breit began working cases on behalf of menhaden fishermen soon after the explosion. Hundreds of thousands of cases were consolidated in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans in MDL 2179.

In October 2010, Judge Carl Barbier appointed 15 lawyers to the plaintiff steering committee in order to manage the litigation on behalf of all of the claimants. Jeffrey was appointed by Judge Barbier to the steering committee. Eventually, he and seven members of the steering committee tried the case before Judge Barbier against the defendants BP, Halliburton, Transocean, Cameron, and others in what became the biggest environmental disaster in United States history and one of the biggest economic loss cases in history.

Jeffrey was responsible for marshaling the case against Halliburton, and after trial, Halliburton settled its portion in the amount of $1.24 billion. To date, over 250,000 businesses and individuals recovered more than $11.5 billion in economic losses; cleanup workers and coastal residents recovered over $67 million; community health grants were awarded in the amount of $105 million; tourism and seafood promotional grants were awarded $57 million; local government agencies were awarded $680 million; and $14 billion was awarded to the United States Government and Gulf of Mexico bordering states.

The individual claims handled by Jeffrey (which included menhaden settlements, BP business claims, lost wage claims, seafood claims, and medical claims) were paid $29 million. Jeffrey was also retained as one of the lawyers for the state of Alabama, which recovered $1 billion dollars.

Chinese Drywall – $248 million

Between 2005 and 2008, Taishan Gypsum, Co. imported 100 million square feet of contaminated Chinese-made drywall to the United States due to shortages that followed the Hurricane Katrina construction spike.

The contaminated drywall contained high levels of sulfur, which resulted in a rotten egg smell in affected homes, blackened or corroded pipes, destroyed electrical wiring, failure of air conditioners and other household appliances, and health problems such as asthma, coughing, headaches, sore throats, and irritated eyes.

The majority of the contaminated drywall ended up in Virginia, Florida, and Louisiana, as well as Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and California.

In 2011, Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Company, Limited settled its nationwide Chinese drywall contamination lawsuit for an amount in excess of $1 billion. The Chinese drywall cases continued against Taishan Gypsum with litigation in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia.

Attorney Jeffrey Breit, along with Richard Serpe, represented 216 plaintiffs in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia.

In August 2019, Taishan Gypsum, Co. agreed to settle for $248 million. The historic settlement meant homeowners would be made “as close to whole” as possible and get closure from the lengthy litigation process.

During this process, attorneys at Breit Biniazan served in the following roles: re-appointed PSC member for the entire litigation; lead, liaison, and trial counsel for the remanded actions to the Eastern District of Virginia; trial counsel in the Eastern District of Florida remanded actions; trial counsel for the PID hearing before the special master; trial counsel for the fee committee trial before a special master Balhoff; class counsel in six separate settlement classes in the litigation (Taishan; Taishan/Venture Supply Assigned Claims; and the four Virginia class settlements). The firm was also appointed to serve as lead and liaison counsel in Virginia’s consolidated drywall litigation.

In addition, the firm utilized the Virginia state court consolidated drywall docket to advance the state-of-the-art litigation against dozens of these downstream defendants achieving scores of settlements including numerous “QSF” settlements with insurance carriers requiring the appointment of a special master for distribution of settlement funds among qualified claimants.

Between 2014 and 2018, no such downstream litigation program existed in either state or federal court anywhere else in the country advancing the state of the case on liability, damages, causation, and scope of remediation.

As a result, the Taishan/Venture Supply claimants amassed millions of dollars of net settlement payments representing 26.38% of their overall claim value. In other words, over ¼ of the entire claim value had already been obtained from downstream defendants. Thus, the Virginia consolidated drywall litigation produced unprecedented recoveries for class members.

As part of the Allocation Neutral’s allocation formula, reduction in Taishan settlement payments were made to reflect prior settlement payments.

Accordingly, due to the firm’s efforts in Virginia State Court, more funds were available for distribution to all other Taishan clients given the unprecedented settlements obtained by the firm in the Virginia State Court drywall consolidation.


Current Mass Tort Litigation

Paragard MDL

This litigation involves allegations that the Paragard intrauterine device (IUD) has a propensity to break upon removal, causing complications and injuries, including surgeries to remove the broken piece of the device, infertility, and pain. Click here to learn more about the Paragard Lawsuit.

If you have suffered injuries as a result of using the Paragard IUD, please contact our office to learn about your rights to compensation.

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

The 2022 Camp Lejeune Justice Act allows for those who served, lived or worked at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between August 1953 and December 1987 and developed cancer or other serious health issues years later, to pursue their case against the federal government. In the past, some of the service members, families or others present at the base were deemed ineligible or had their claims denied by the Veterans Administration. With the passing of this act, anyone who lived in the area during 1953-1987 and was harmed by water contamination at Camp Lejeune is eligible to receive fair compensation for the injuries suffered. 

In 1982, routine water testing found that drinking water sources at Camp Lejeune were contaminated (in some cases up to 300 times acceptable levels) with benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene, or perchloroethylene (PCE), and vinyl chloride (VC), all of which are known to be carcinogenic or harmful to humans. Water contamination sources included leaking underground water storage tanks and waste disposal sites causing those who were exposed to suffer with cancer and other serious health problems related to the chemicals. 

Health conditions from exposure may include:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Female infertility
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Miscarriage
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Scleroderma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Other health conditions

If you lived or worked at Camp Lejeune in the period of August 1953 to December 1987 and have suffered health issues, please contact our firm to learn about your rights for compensation.

Philips CPAP Sleep Apnea Machines

In June 2021, Philips issued a voluntary recall involving millions of sleep apnea and ventilator devices which may increase the risk of lung injury and cancer due to inhalation foam particles and outgassing of toxic chemicals. The company estimates that 3-4 million devices may be affected, the majority of which are first-generation DreamStation products sold before April 2021.

Recalled Philips Devices Include:

CPAP and BiLevel PAP

  • Continuous Ventilator, Non-life Supporting
  • DreamStation ASV
  • DreamStation ST, AVAPS
  • SystemOne ASV4
  • C Series ASV, S/T, AVAPS
  • OmniLab Advanced Plus In-Lab Titration Device

Non-continuous Ventilator

  • SystemOne Q series
  • DreamStation CPAP, Auto CPAP, BiPAP
  • DreamStation Go CPAP, APAP
  • Dorma 400, 500 CPAP
  • REMStar SE Auto CPAP 

Continuous Ventilator, Minimum Ventilatory Support, Facility Use

  • E30 (Under Emergency Use Authorization)
  • Mechanical Ventilators

Continuous Ventilator

  • Trilogy 100 Ventilator 
  • Trilogy 200 Ventilator 
  • Garbin Plus, Aeris, LifeVent Ventilator 

Continuous Ventilator, Minimum Ventilatory Support, Facility Use

  • A-Series BiPAP V30 Auto Ventilator 

The recalled Philips CPAP and ventilator devices issues are related to polyester-based polyurethane (PE-PUR) foam which is a sound-abatement component of certain models of the devices. This foam has been linked to an increased risk of airway contamination, chemical exposure, and possible cancer. 

The company may be facing multiple lawsuits filed by people who were injured by the devices and who are suffering from the following symptoms:

Respiratory:

  • Lung damage
  • New or worsening asthma
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis
  • Pleural effusion
  • Reactive Airway Disease (RAD)

Cancer:

  • Leukemia
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Sinonasal Cancer
  • Lung Cancer
  • Hepatic Cancer
  • Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

If you or a loved one used a Philips Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure (Bi-Level PAP), Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or mechanical ventilator device and suffered lung injury or cancer, you may be eligible for compensation. Please contact our firm to learn more about your options.

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