Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series
Edited by Jennifer H. Arlen
Chapter 11: The socio-economics of mass torts: What we know, don’t know and should know
“Mass tort” is a term of art, not a legal category. The term came into use in the 1980s to describe large numbers of similar lawsuits against one or a few defendants arising out of the same circumstances and claiming compensation for personal injury or property damage. Litigation categorized as “mass torts” includes toxic exposure claims (e.g., asbestos), product defect claims (e.g., Vioxx), physical and psychological abuse claims (e.g., clergy abuse), environmental pollution claims (e.g., the Gulf Oil spill) and mass accident claims (e.g., the Rhode Island night club fire). Although it was the large number of related claims that first drew attention, what distinguishes mass torts from garden-variety tort claims is their aggregated treatment by parties, lawyers and judges. Aggregation shapes every procedural aspect of mass tort litigation, from filing to pre-trial development to disposition, and significantly affects its outcomes.
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