Mass Toxic Tort Litigation and Class Action Rule Reform in the United States


Jason L. Betts


The paper advances the proposition that mass toxic tort litigation has been the predominant driver of class action rule reform in the Unites States. Through three distinct phases of proposals to reform Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the judicial and academic attitude to the certification of mass toxic torts has influenced the reform debate in radically different ways – initially by providing the catalyst for efforts to reform Rule 23; then as a dampener against significant reforms to Rule 23 in the wake of mass toxic tort “settlement-only” classes; and ultimately as an explanation for the comparatively modest reforms presently before Congress. The common theme throughout the three “Rounds” of reform is that the trends and developments in mass toxic tort litigation have determined the pace and substantive outcome of class action rule reform in the United States. The fact that Rule 23 remains standing in what is effectively its original 1966 format supports a central contention of this paper, namely, that any meaningful change to class action practice designed to accommodate the legal and ethical challenges posed by aggregate toxic exposure claims lies in the collective hands of Congress.


Commercial Law | Consumer Protection Law | Dispute Resolution and Arbitration | Environmental Law | Law | Litigation | Torts

Date of this Version

September 2003