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By Natalie Yerger, freelance reporter This article was written for our sponsor, Riddle & Brantley. As social media and the Internet quicken the spread of information, most people are aware of mass tort cases, even if they're not familiar with the formal term. Take Johnson & Johnson baby powder, for example. You'd recognize the distinctive fragrance anywhere, and you've probably seen Facebook posts and news articles about the thousands of lawsuits claiming the talc-based product is contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos. "Mass tort involves a lot of people injured by the action of one or two defendants that are similarly situated and spread out all over the country," explained Jonathan Smith, vice president and attorney at Riddle & Brantley law firm. "It's a way of consolidating those cases and bringing them together to seek compensation for multiple victims." Smith, who's been with Riddle & Brantley for nine years, said he started doing more mass tort cases when previous clients who learned about harmful products would contact the firm wondering what to do. "It's been something you see more and more of lately as you've got more medical devices and drugs that are getting around the FDA and slip through the cracks," Smith said. Smith said the Johnson & Johnson mass tort is one the firm has been helping with for some time, but while the baby powder case is among the most well-known, Riddle & Brantley is also helping clients seek justice for problems with a variety of other products. One involves earplugs manufactured by 3M that were widely used on North Carolina military bases and in combat zones overseas. "They were designed to have two sides, but they cause hearing loss. In one test, they were proven to actually magnify sound. Individuals who used them may have hearing loss or tinnitus as a result," Smith said. "Another big one is Roundup. It's been around for a long time, and it was not until recently that they linked it to causing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. As science catches up, you'll see more of these types of cases," he added. While the number of products involved in mass torts seems to be increasing, what isn't always clear to those who've experienced injury is what to do next. First, Smith said, is understanding the difference between mass tort and personal injury. "Personal injury is a single event. What that means is that you've got one car accident or one fall or one premises liability case," Smith explained. "A personal injury case is a tort. Mass torts are multiple torts. Instead of one single event, you have multiple events with multiple plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs are across the country or any geographical region. They all have individual claims against one defendant, and a mass tort is a way to organize those claims." Upon realizing a product could be to blame for their harm, consumers who don't understand mass torts may feel obligated to weigh their ability to navigate the complexities of the legal system against receiving compensation and justice for their injuries. This is where an attorney can help. Mass tort cases can be extraordinarily complex, involving costly tests to prove causation and unusual legal processes like multidistrict litigation. An experienced legal team will bring the proper skills, resources and experience to prepare a mass tort case. Individuals who think they have a case should keep in mind there are limitations, or fixed periods of time within which claims can be filed, so hiring a lawyer as soon as possible is essential. "The advantage to an individual of hiring a lawyer is that you can join similarly situated plaintiffs with similar criteria," Smith said. "If I alone sued Johnson & Johnson, it would be hugely expensive getting medical doctors and proving causation. When you come to Riddle & Brantley, you get placed into [multidistrict litigation] so that the burden isn't entirely on you. It's spread around on individuals similarly situated to you. It's hard to go at it alone even with an attorney." When it comes to finding a mass tort lawyer, Smith said to consult one with experience handling these claims. Most mass tort attorneys will stay informed about nationwide cases even before they're approached by clients. "The main thing is being in the know of what's happening with the current litigation and understanding the criteria as to whether the case meets the threshold to move forward," Smith said. "You're dealing with statutes of limitations and more; so staying in the loop with the mass tort community throughout the country is key to understanding the best posture and position you can put your client in." To stay connected, Smith receives reports about the current status of mass tort cases and regularly checks on related filings. He also communicates with the attorneys steering the case, known as the plaintiffs' steering committee. "They steer where the litigation goes, so it's important for us to maintain a good relationship with those attorneys so we can understand what's happening with the cases and get our clients in the best position possible," he said. Individuals seeking assistance for their case should also consider whether the law firm they're considering working with is willing to work with other lawyers. Riddle & Brantley, for example, isn't afraid to partner with other firms for the benefit of their clients. "At the end of the day, what matters most is that we get them the best results, whether alone or when partnering with law firms throughout the process," Smith said. The number of mass tort cases in America may continue to rise as companies push products and ignore negative reviews and news reports for as long as possible. Consumers should be especially wary when purchasing products that are applied to or worn on the body, and when considering the need for surgically-implanted devices, like meshes and hip and knee replacement materials. If you suspect you have a case, don't be afraid to seek help. "I always encourage anybody: don't be afraid to ask," Smith said. "It's not an intimidating process to contact an attorney if you think you've been exposed to something. It doesn't hurt to ask and doesn't cost you anything. The worst case scenario is you get off the phone the same way you get on." This article was written for our sponsor, Riddle & Brantley.