For the majority of class action lawsuits, you do not need to do anything to join if you are identified as a class member. Typically, anyone whose legal interests are represented by a class action lawsuit is considered to be a class member and is automatically included in the lawsuit. In these cases, you will automatically be included in the lawsuit unless you choose to opt out of the case. Some class actions may require you to opt-in, in rather than opt-out. If you do need assistance, the representing attorney can show you how to join a class action lawsuit.
What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit in which one person, or a small group of people, sues on behalf of a larger group of people who have all suffered a similar injury. Class action lawsuits allow a large number of people to receive compensation for harm suffered due to an illegal, negligent, or wrongful act by a corporation, manufacturer, retailer, or government entity. The larger group of people that have suffered an injury are considered class members. Class members are not the ones filing the suit, but they will have the right to receive a part of any settlement or court award that results from the lawsuit.
The common injury suffered by class members can be either physical or financial harm. Class actions allow class members who have suffered small monetary losses to receive compensation through the class action lawsuit that would not be worthwhile to pursue on their own.
There is no cost to join a class action lawsuit. In most cases, the attorneys representing the class action are only paid when the case successfully settles or receives a court award. Because they will only receive compensation if they are successful, most class action lawyers will only take on cases they feel are valid and likely to succeed.
Requirements of a Class Action Lawsuit
Class action lawsuits are complex legal procedures. There are requirements that must be met in order to bring a class action lawsuit. Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure lays out the requirements for a lawsuit to qualify as a class action. According to this rule, the following criteria must be met:
Numerosity means that the number of people affected must be so large that it is more practical to have one action for the entire incident rather than have each person bring an individual action. If only a small group of people have been harmed, a judge may decide that they should bring individual legal actions instead of a class action.
Commonality means that the lawsuit must involve factual and legal issues that are shared by all class members. In addition, all class members should share a common injury.
Typicality means that the class representative, or the person that actually files the case, must have an issue or claim that is typical of all potential class members. If the named plaintiff has suffered a much greater injury than that of a typical class member, a judge may determine that he or she should file an individual lawsuit instead of a class action because his or her particular injury is not “typical” of the average class member.
Finally, adequacy means that the potential class is adequately represented by the people or person filing the lawsuit on their behalf. The class representative must have a sufficient interest in the case to be able to fairly and adequately represent the interests of the entire class.
If, after reviewing the class action complaint, a judge determines that all of these requirements are met, the judge will grant class certification of a class action.
Types of Class Action Lawsuits
Class action lawsuits may be brought against a variety of entities such as manufacturers, retailers, financial institutions, employers, or government entities. Some common types of class action lawsuits include:
- Consumer fraud
- Securities fraud
- Environmental disaster
- Privacy/ Consumer rights
The most common type of class action lawsuits are for consumer fraud. Consumer fraud lawsuits address fraudulent business practices related to defective products, false advertising, or violations of consumer protection laws. Employment class action lawsuits might be brought against an employer for discrimination or other alleged wrongdoing against employees. Some common types of employment class action lawsuits involve unpaid overtime, missed meals and breaks, and discrimination based on race, age, or gender.
Security fraud class action lawsuits include stockbroker fraud and investment fraud. Security fraud lawsuits address losses suffered by investors after investments are made based on false information. Environmental class action lawsuits can result when harm results from oils spills, chemical spills, or water contamination. Antitrust class action lawsuits are filed against companies when they work together to artificially raise prices or fix prices so that consumers must pay more for their product or services.
How Do I Join a Class Action Lawsuit?
If a class action lawsuit has been filed that affects your legal rights, you usually do not need to do anything to become part of the lawsuit. Most class action lawsuits are opt out lawsuits, meaning unless class members choose to opt out, they are automatically part of the suit. If you are a class member, you may receive a notice in the mail letting you know that the class action lawsuit may impact your legal rights.
While the majority of class action lawsuits are opt-out, some are “opt-in” lawsuits. Potential class members are not automatically included in an opt-in lawsuit. If a class action lawsuit is an opt-in suit, you will receive directions with the class action notice on how to opt in. Opt-in class action lawsuits commonly involve allegations of illegal employment practices, such as workplace discrimination. If you are considering whether you should opt in to a class action lawsuit, you may contact a class action lawyer for advice. A class action lawyer can help you evaluate the pros and cons of participating in the class action lawsuit as opposed to filing an individual action.
What Are the Benefits of a Class Action Lawsuit?
If you have suffered minor harm due to the wrongful acts of a negligent party, there are several benefits to class action lawsuits. Some benefits of a class action lawsuit include:
- You are not responsible for legal fees
- You do not need to participate in court proceedings
- Reduced stress levels
- Increase in judicial efficiency by combining many claims into a single case
- Ensuring that all class members are consistently and fairly compensated
A class action lawyer can evaluate your circumstances and help you determine if a class action is the most beneficial way to move forward.
Opting Out of a Class Action
While there are many benefits to class action lawsuits, there are some reasons you may choose to opt out. Some of the biggest disadvantages of joining a class action lawsuit include:
- Limited compensation
- Limited involvement
- Lack of non-monetary compensation
- Lengthy litigation
If you choose to join a class action lawsuit, the settlement award will be divided equally among all the class members. Class members who have suffered greater losses receive the same compensation as those who suffered more minor losses. This means you may not be fully compensated for your losses.
As a class member in a class action lawsuit, you will have very little involvement or control of the direction of the lawsuit. The class representative, along with the attorneys, will make the major decisions in the case. If you want more control over how the case proceeds, you may wish to opt out of the class action.
You may wish to opt out of a class action lawsuit if you are hoping to receive some type of non-monetary compensation since most class actions pursue only monetary compensation.
The most significant reason you may wish to opt out of a class action lawsuit is if you intend to bring an individual action against the defendant. You may wish to do this if you have experienced harm that differs from or is more severe than the harm suffered by the other class members. Additionally, if you are a member of a class action lawsuit that is unsuccessful, you will likely not be able to bring an individual suit at a later time.
What Happens After I Join a Class Action Lawsuit?
Once you have received notification that you are a class member, you may be wondering what to expect in a class action lawsuit. The class representative and the attorneys will handle the details of the lawsuit. In most cases, they will reach a settlement with the entity that the lawsuit is against. As a class member, you usually do not have to take any action until the case settles.
The settlement will describe what compensation will be provided to class members and how it will be distributed. Once a settlement is reached, class members will be notified and given directions on how to receive their portion of the settlement. Class members are typically notified of the settlement by mail or e-mail, and may be required to submit a claim form either online or by mail.
How to Start a Class Action Lawsuit
If you have been injured due to the wrongful actions of a corporation or other entity, and you believe that others have been harmed in the same way, you may be able to start a class action lawsuit. There are, however, certain requirements that must be met for a class action lawsuit that differ from a typical civil suit.
The first step in starting a class action lawsuit is to file a complaint to bring a putative class action. A putative class action is a lawsuit brought by a named plaintiff on behalf of a group of potential class members. The filing party may not know who all the plaintiffs will be at this point, but he or she has reason to believe that they exist. The initial complaint is referred to as a class action complaint and will describe the events that caused the injury.
Once the complaint is filed, the party or parties filing the suit must petition the court to certify the lawsuit as a class action. To be certified as a class action, the requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy must be met. At this point, discovery is conducted to gather information to support certifying the class action and to identify the class members.
Once a class action is certified, the potential members of the class must be notified. Notification is often given by mail, but may also be publicized online, in newspapers, and through other forms of media to ensure that all class members have the opportunity to be included. Most class action lawsuits reach a settlement without going to trial. The court will have a hearing to determine if a settlement reached is fair, reasonable, and adequate. The settlement must describe how compensation will be provided to the class members. Class members must be notified of the settlement and how to receive their portion of the settlement. The court will also oversee the administration of the payout.
What Is the Difference Between a Class Action and Mass Tort Claim?
Like class actions, mass tort claims involve a large number of people suing a single defendant. Mass tort claims differ from a class action lawsuit because each individual plaintiff files an individual claim against the company. If the legal criteria for certifying a class action is not met, the case might instead become a mass tort. Mass tort claims may involve various types of injuries with varying degrees of severity. The injured parties may receive different settlement amounts or court awards, depending on their individual situation. A class action lawyer can help you determine if a class action or mass tort claim is more appropriate for your situation, depending on the facts of your case.