Understanding Mass Torts in Environmental Lawsuits

  • March 11, 2024

Mass torts represent a major aspect of environmental litigation. These lawsuits help to ensure that entities responsible for environmental harm are held accountable. This post will provide you with a basic understanding of mass torts in environmental lawsuits.

What is a Mass Tort?

A mass tort is a civil action that is launched by many plaintiffs against one or a few corporates or organizations. In environmental law, it usually involves a large number of people seeking compensation for injuries or damages caused by environmental pollution caused by the defendant’s negligence.

Prolific Examples of Mass Tort in Environmental Law

Some of the most notable examples of mass environmental torts include the BP Oil Spill, The Love Canal litigation and the Erin Brockovich case – where Pacific Gas and Electric Company polluted the drinking water of a small town in California.

Classes of Mass Tort Environmental Cases

There are two primary kinds of mass tort environmental cases: toxic tort and disaster tort. Toxic tort cases arise from exposure to harmful substances such as pesticides, chemicals or pharmaceutical drugs. Disaster tort cases, on the other hand, happen due to catastrophes like oil spills or nuclear meltdowns.

The Process of a Mass Tort in Environmental Law

Mass tort cases usually engage in a process of ‘bundling’ together numerous lawsuits which claim similar harm from the same source. Then, the legal proceedings follow a common timeline, which includes discovery, negotiation, and potentially a trial. Sometimes, plaintiffs can receive a settlement without going to trial.

Challenges of Mass Tort in Environmental Lawsuits

These lawsuits can be complex due to the multiple layers and many players involved, including plaintiffs, defendants, and the scientific community. The vast number of claimants with varying degrees of damages makes it difficult to manage. Furthermore, determining liability and proving causation between the harm and the alleged environmental offender can often be a significant challenge.


Mass torts in environmental law are an essential tool for addressing broad-reaching environmental damage. They provide an opportunity for individuals who have suffered harm to push for justice and force responsible parties to take responsibility for their actions.


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