Image from Inside Nova
Almost every day on television there is a commercial for a new class action lawsuit, talc in baby powder, water contamination at Camp Lejeune or mesothelioma claims – but what exactly is a class action lawsuit? Class actions are civil lawsuits brought on behalf of a group of individuals (people or businesses) who have suffered common injuries resulting from the defendant’s conduct.
The lawsuits can be based on allegations of defective products, false advertising, discrimination or other causes. These suits can be filed in either federal or state courts. The requirements to be considered a class action lawsuit depend on the court the suit is filed in.
Who can file a class action lawsuit? Once a single plaintiff discusses with an attorney, depending on the circumstances of the case, the attorney may begin working on finding others who are eligible to join the class action.
How does a class action work? First, the plaintiffs must be certified as a class. This means showing both there is a proper legal claim against the defendant and there are enough similarly injured plaintiffs to constitute a class. There is no set number of plaintiffs required to constitute a class.
After the class is certified by a court, notice is sent to anyone who may be considered part of the class. This can be done through direct mailing or advertisements on television, radio, newspapers or the Internet. For the most part, membership in the class is automatic and individuals will be able to opt out if they so choose. During the trial, the class will be represented by the lead plaintiff. To succeed, only the lead plaintiff must prove their case. If the plaintiff is successful, then the award will be distributed to all members of the class.
Why do class actions exist? First, class actions can lower the cost of legal claims. Without them, the cost of litigation could foreclose the opportunity to some plaintiffs to pursue their claims. For example, if a bank was charging a $25 illegal fee to their users it would be impractical for each plaintiff to attempt to bring this claim individually. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a law firm to represent such parties.
As a class action, however, this suit is more effective. When the lawsuit is a class action, the law firm represents the claim on a contingent fee basis. This requires no payment during the process, and the firm receives a pre-set percentage of the total recovery (often subject to judicial approval). Second, these suits can allow the process to proceed through the legal system more efficiently. By having all the claims combined into one suit, both parties can handle this litigation more efficiently as opposed to hundreds or thousands of individual suits. Thus, the existence of the class action lawsuit system allows protection of consumers and provides relief to truly injured parties.
Why might a potential plaintiff opt out of a class action lawsuit? First and foremost, a plaintiff who desires more control over their individual claim is likely to opt out. When participating as a class, almost all decisions are made by the class representative and the law firm. For example, any potential settlement agreement would be resolved by the class representative and the law firm without input from the class at-large. Second, your participation in the class will foreclose any individual action by you against the defendant. This means that if the class action were to fail, you cannot get another shot by filing an individual claim. Finally, if you have substantial claims or believe your claims are not substantially similar to the class, you may not want to join the class.
What distinguishes a class action lawsuit from a mass tort lawsuit? Both involve groups of plaintiffs who share similar claims against one defendant. One main difference is how the plaintiffs are treated. In a mass tort, each member is still treated as an individual. Thus, each plaintiff must prove certain individualized facts in order to succeed on their claim. Mass tort actions are often used when legal criteria for a class action is not met. Mass torts are often filed when consumers are injured on a large scale by a drug, a medical device, a defective product, a mass disaster or toxic conditions. Similar to a class action, a mass tort lawsuit has the claims consolidated into one action.
Located in McLean, Va., General Counsel, P.C., provides legal representation to businesses, non-profits and individuals throughout Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The law firm has six (6) primary practice areas to serve its clients: (1) State / Federal Court Litigation; (2) Business Law; (3) Employment Law; (4) Government Contracts; (5) Divorce / Family Law; and (6) Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning. If you need legal assistance, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or use this Contact Us Form.