Lawsuits have power. Sometimes lawsuits provide needed financial compensation, and other times the outcome of a case forces big corporations to change their ways.
Naturally, the main reason people file a lawsuit is to seek financial compensation. Getting corporations to change is a bonus.
While it’s often possible to get more compensation through an individual personal injury claim, the amount of time and money required is beyond what many can afford. For this reason, mass torts are often an injured person’s only option.
Even so, mass torts have more power than individual lawsuits for several reasons.
Mass torts can unify people who never thought about filing a lawsuit
Sometimes people live with a personal injury of an unknown cause. Or, they don’t think their issue is worth pursuing. When mass torts are organized by individual law firms, more people become aware of the cause for their injuries and suddenly the idea of pursuing a claim sounds reasonable.
For example, about half of all U.S. combat veterans suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus. It’s common sense that prolonged exposure to gunfire and explosions will damage hearing. They chose to join the military and knew the potential consequences. However, the military has a duty to provide soldiers with high-quality, tested earplugs to at least reduce the potential for damage.
Many combat veterans who wore their issued earplugs consider their hearing loss unavoidable. What they don’t know is the earplugs they were given may have been defective. Most would never suspect their hearing loss may have been caused by defective earplugs. However, there is mass tort litigation against 3M for knowingly supplying the U.S. military with defective earplugs.
It’s unlikely that individual veterans would decide to pursue a lawsuit against the military or the makers of the defective earplugs, especially if they have no reason to believe their earplugs were defective.
However, when they see ads for mass tort litigation that speaks about their specific problem, knowing others are pursuing claims, it’s much easier for them to join the cause.
Mass torts are widely publicized, which can force corporations to change
Unless a case is huge, like Dewayne Johnson’s $78 million win against Monsanto, it’s unlikely to draw the attention of local or national reporters. Without widespread press, the world won’t know when popular corporations are being sued.
People will continue supporting corporations that are taking advantage of consumers, and because the world isn’t watching, those corporations will have no reason to change.
On the other hand, a mass tort can bring the negative press that forces corporations to change. Similar to mass torts, several major class action lawsuits have forced change.
For example, a class action lawsuit against Volkswagen forced the automaker to retrofit more than 11 million vehicles with legitimately clean diesel engines. The lawsuit was brought against the company in 2014 when they were caught using software to cheat on emissions tests.
The $14.7 billion lawsuit showed other companies the price of cheating their way around meeting environmental requirements. The lawsuit also exposed the company to the world, creating major disappointment and plenty of boycotts.
Today, VW is focusing on electric cars, which will greatly benefit the environment.
If large corporations are going to be forced to change their ways, they need the negative publicity that usually only comes from mass torts.
Mass litigation can create historical change
Perhaps the most profound change came from the class action lawsuit Brown vs. Board of Education. The lawsuit was filed in 1951 by Oliver Brown. Brown argued that segregated schools violated the “equal protection” clause of the 14th amendment, which prohibits states from denying equal protection of the laws.
Brown also argued that segregated schools were not equal and that schools for black children prevented them from receiving an “appropriate and equivalent public education.”
When Brown’s case reached the Supreme Court in 1952, it was combined with four other similar cases. The final decision was issued on May 17, 1954, and the “separate but equal” doctrine was dissolved and schools were directed to desegregate.
As a result of this landmark Supreme Court ruling, the civil rights movement was strengthened, schools were slowly, but eventually desegregated, and history was changed forever.
Lawsuits are not always about the money
Although money is important, not all lawsuits are primarily about the money. Some lawyers enjoy pursuing mass torts because they know they have the opportunity to hold corporations accountable and create some lasting change.