When your personal injury case can be classified as a "mass tort" claim, the illness or injury you've suffered is often the same (or similar to) that of a large number of other claimants. But it's still essential to establish the scope of your harm, and that means getting a diagnosis of your injury/illness and a record of the course of medical care you've received—plus a prognosis of the treatment you'll require in the future, if applicable. In this article, we'll explain what diagnosis means in a mass tort case, and why it matters.
"Mass tort" cases are a type of personal injury claim in which many individuals are harmed by the wrongdoing of a single defendant (like a product manufacturer), or as a result of the same event (like a commercial aviation accident).
Examples of mass tort litigation include:
Regardless of the type of mass tort case you're filing, the specifics of your health problems are critical. The nature and extent of your injury or illness are huge determinants of your losses ("damages"), which set the value of your claim.
A mass tort case almost always includes both "economic" damages (including medical bills, lost income, and other financial losses) and "non-economic" damages (including pain and suffering and other more subjective consequences of your injury or illness).
Learn more about damages and the value of your personal injury case.
When faced with a wave of mass tort lawsuits, manufacturers and other defendants often employ a strategy of weeding out plaintiffs who don't actually seem to have any injury or illness, or whose condition could be attributable to some other cause.
One important thing to note here is that it's not enough to have used a product or been exposed to a chemical that could cause illness or injury, and to worry that you might get sick. A mass tort case requires actual compensable harm, and that starts with a medical diagnosis.
An unsubstantiated or undiagnosed injury or illness (or even an unreasonable delay in seeking medical treatment when you claim to have developed symptoms) makes it much easier for the defense to argue that your injuries/illness aren't serious, or that your claimed harm isn't their fault.
On a related note, most lawyers won't take on a client whose illness or injury isn't verified. (Learn more about why a lawyer might turn down your injury case.) Some attorneys will arrange for a health assessment for potential clients, or order medical records from the potential client’s health care providers and send those records to medical experts for evaluation before deciding whether to take the case.
When you file a mass tort lawsuit, the defendant is usually entitled to see whatever medical information your lawyer has that could be relevant to your case. As an initial step, your lawyer will probably provide the defense with a list of facilities where you've been examined or treated. This kind of information is usually handed over as part of "answers to interrogatories" in the discovery phase of your case. (Learn more about the stages of a personal injury lawsuit.)
If the defendant's attorneys decide they want to look at specific medical records that your lawyer hasn’t already provided, you often need to give authorization allowing the release of further medical information. Because of privacy regulations, each authorization must be specific to the provider or facility that treated you, so if you've seen a number of providers in connection with your illness or injury, you'll probably end up signing a lot of forms.
If you or a loved one has suffered the kind of harm that might give rise to a mass tort claim, you might want to discuss your situation (and your options) with a personal injury lawyer.