Man filing forms from attorney

Anyone injured due to the carelessness of another person has the right to file a lawsuit in order to recover any damages that they have sustained. Cases of one plaintiff and one defendant the lawsuit is referred to as a single plaintiff lawsuit.

There are also cases where many people have been injured by the actions of one person or business entity. These injured people also have the right to sue for their damages. When there are many plaintiffs but only a single defendant, the plaintiffs have two options that may be available: a class action lawsuit or a mass tort lawsuit.

On this page we will take a very brief look at all three types of lawsuits, beginning with the single plaintiff lawsuit.

Single Plaintiff Lawsuits

By far the most common type of personal injury lawsuit is the single plaintiff lawsuit. This type of lawsuit typically involves an injury to one person and that injury is alleged to have been caused by the negligence of one defendant. Perhaps the best-known type of single plaintiff lawsuit arises from cases where a person suffers an injury in a slip and fall accident or in a motor vehicle accident.
There are both advantages and disadvantages associated with single plaintiff lawsuits. Among the advantages are that single plaintiff lawsuits tend to be much easier to resolve through negotiation between the involved parties, or by arbitration, and can thus allow plaintiff to recover damages more quickly. Additionally, single plaintiff lawsuits are practically always decided based of the facts of each case rather than on interpretations of points of law.

A potential disadvantage to single plaintiff lawsuits is that the costs of bringing a lawsuit to trial can be greater than the amount of damages being sought. If a jury awards less than the amount asked for, a plaintiff could easily find himself “paying to prove his own point.” However, the greatest potential disadvantage to a single plaintiff lawsuit is that of several defendants being able to pool their individual resources to overwhelm a plaintiff whose resources are limited.

A partial remedy to the latter situation is that lawyers are allowed to represent clients on what is known as a contingency fee basis, where the plaintiff’s lawyer will assume many of the costs associated with a single plaintiff personal injury lawsuit in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of any judgement or settlement that is awarded to the plaintiff.

Class Action Lawsuits

Class action lawsuits are usually filed when it would be impractical, for financial or other reasons, for individual plaintiffs to file lawsuits against the same defendant.
Class actions can arise in situations where there are many plaintiffs but only one defendant. The distinguishing features of a class action lawsuit are:

  1. The plaintiffs have suffered the same injury
  2. The injury suffered can be attributed to the same act by the defendant
  3. The number of plaintiffs, and potential plaintiffs, is large enough that it would be impracticable to try each case separately,
  4. It is usually the defendant that asks to have the cases consolidated into a single lawsuit and that the consolidated lawsuit be heard in a federal court.

In a class action lawsuit, the large number of plaintiffs are represented by a single or “lead” plaintiff that has agreed to act behalf of the entire “group” or “class” of plaintiffs and the class includes everyone that has suffered the same injury, including those who are not plaintiffs at the time the class action lawsuit is tried and settled.

Mass Tort Lawsuits

Mass tort lawsuits, also called mass tort actions, are similar to class action lawsuits in that there are many plaintiffs and a single defendant. The differences between a class action and a mass tort action are:

  1. The plaintiffs have suffered different injuries even though the injuries are due to the same alleged act by the defendant.
  2. There are many plaintiffs, but not so many that it is impracticable to try each case separately, therefore each lawsuit is tried individually and damages are awarded according to the degree of injury suffered by each plaintiff.
  3. It is usually the plaintiff who requests permission to have the individual cases consolidated into a mass tort action.

When there are many plaintiffs filing against a single defendant, the plaintiffs can ask a court to allow certain actions to be performed only once if they can show that such actions would be common to all similar lawsuits against the same defendant. These actions are conducted during the pre-trial phase and include taking depositions, establishing the admissibility of evidence, establishing the credentials of experts witnesses and other proceedings that will apply to all lawsuits in the mass tort action.

The principle advantage to the plaintiffs in a mass tort action is that the expenses of pre-trial preparation are drastically reduced since those expenses are shared by a large number of plaintiffs and that many issues of fact are decided prior to the beginnings of the individual trials. A further advantage to a mass tort action is that, once the pre-trial activities are concluded, the individual cases will usually be heard in a state court where the plaintiff lives.

The major disadvantage of participating in a mass tort lawsuit is that one adverse ruling during the pre-trial period can affect all the plaintiffs in their individual lawsuits. As an example, if the plaintiffs are alleging that a certain compound in a medication caused birth defects, and evidence was found during pre-trial depositions that the research supporting those claims was faulty, all plaintiffs’ cases would be weakened.

In summary, we have looked at three types of personal injury lawsuits as well as the potential strength and weakness of each. Since participation in one type of lawsuit will usually result in an inability to participate in another lawsuit against the same defendant, it is strongly suggested that any such course of action be made after consulting an experienced personal injury attorney.