Drug and Medical Devices: Why They Are Rarely Class Actions

Most lawsuits involving dangerous drugs and defective medical devices are 'mass torts' – not class actions.

At A Glance:
Most lawsuits involving defective drugs and medical devices are not class actions. They are "mass torts."
The biggest difference between a class action and a mass tort case is that mass tort lawsuits are filed individually by one person on behalf of himself, whereas class actions are filed on behalf of a large group of people.
Drug and medical devices cases are more suitable to be handled individually than as class actions. This is because each patient's injuries and resulting losses (e.g., medical bills, pain and suffering) are different.

What Is a Mass Tort?

The term "mass tort" refers to a wrongdoing, usually committed by a large corporation – such as a drug or medical device maker – that affects a large number of people. When litigation involves a mass tort (e.g., a company sold a diabetes drug without warning people that it had a high risk of causing cancer), hundreds or potentially thousands of individual lawsuits are filed separately, with each person seeking compensation for the specific damages he or she has suffered. You can learn more about mass torts and find out how they are different from class actions here.

Why Most Drug and Medical Device Cases Are Not Suitable for Class Actions

In a class action, one person files a lawsuit seeking to represent all people in a certain geographic area who have suffered the same harm. The person who files the lawsuit is referred to as the "lead plaintiff" and the people who may be awarded compensation through the class action are referred to as "class members." Class members need not file individual lawsuits, unless they affirmatively choose to opt-out of the class action litigation.

Why Most Drug and Medical Device Cases Are Not Suitable for Class Actions

In most dangerous drug and defective medical device lawsuits, the plaintiff will be awarded compensation based on the specific damages he or she has suffered, as the severity of each individual peron's injury may vary. In class actions, the class members usually have suffered the exact same injury and will therefore receive identical awards if the case is favorably resolved. Furthermore, class actions usually involve lower levels of individual financial harm. Therefore, it makes sense for the class members to have their claims handled collectively, as the cost of individual lawsuits would outweigh any potential recovery. Mass torts, on the other hand, generally involve serious medical injuries and, when successful, result in larger settlements and verdicts. This means that the costs associated with filing individual lawsuits in these cases do not outweigh their potential recoveries.

Still confused? Here's an example.