Q: What is a “class action”?
A: Class actions are lawsuits filed in civil courts on behalf of large groups of persons who have suffered injury. A class action seeks to remedy injury suffered by a group, or “class,” of persons who were harmed in a similar way. For example, a common class action is a security class action, filed on behalf of defrauded investors in a particular stock, bond, or investment. Another common class action is a consumer class action, filed on behalf of consumers who have been injured or defrauded by defective or malfunctioning products.
Q: Will it cost me anything to participate in a class action lawsuit?
A: No. Class actions are large, complex lawsuits. Your attorneys will pay litigation costs and expenses, which are recouped at the end of the case if the class action is successful and a recovery is achieved.
Q: How do I start a class action lawsuit?
A: The first step is to recognize a wrong, harm or injury suffered by a large group of persons. Common types of classes include patients harmed by dangerous drugs, consumers who purchased defective goods or services, or defrauded investors. Your attorney will then prepare the necessary documents to file the suit as a class action, which has special procedures that must be followed so the suit may proceed as a class action.
Q: Am I permitted to participate in a class action?
A: If you are a “class member,” you may participate in the class action as a “class representative.” You are a class member if you have been harmed or suffered injury in a manner similar to other persons. When a group of persons has been similarly harmed or injured, they may comprise a “class” and may prosecute a class action to recover money or seek other remedies in a court of law.
Q: Why do people file or participate in class action lawsuits?
A: Class action lawsuits provide several advantages. If many persons have been harmed, the class action allows multiple claims to proceed in court together at the same time, saving time and money and ensuring efficient use of the courts. Sometimes consumers and investors are defrauded, but the amount of their individual injury does not justify bringing an individual lawsuit. The class action permits many people with small individual injuries to join forces and combine their damages. The case then proceeds as a class action, allowing them to present a single, unified, economically viable claim on behalf of a class of persons.
Q: How does a class action lawsuit work?
A: Several class representatives, or lead plaintiffs, file a class action lawsuit. During the course of the litigation counsel for the class, and the class representatives, will ask the court to “certify” the litigation as a class action. To certify the case as a class action, the plaintiffs must show, and the court will determine, the following:
- numerous: whether enough affected persons, or class members, make the class action a more efficient method to handle many claims simultaneously in a single class action
- commonality: whether each class member has “common issues” of fact and law for each claim
- adequacy: the class representatives must have claims that are “typical” of all class members’ claims
- adequate counsel: the attorneys representing the class must have sufficient skill and experience to adequately represent the class’ interests
After a class has been certified, generally the court will order the parties to notify class members about the class action lawsuit. Notification may be done by letter, newspaper and periodical advertisements, news releases, or information made available on the internet, including downloadable claim forms. Class members automatically are a part of the class action, unless they “opt out” of the class and pursue their own, individual litigation against the defendants. Generally, only the lead plaintiffs or class representatives directly participate in the class action litigation.
Q: What award or recovery will I receive in a class action lawsuit?
A: If a recovery is obtained in the class action lawsuit, the court will enter an order dividing the recovery, which may include money, services, replacement of defective items, or a combination to satisfy injured class members. Attorneys for the class are awarded their costs and fees incurred while litigating the class action, which generally is a percentage of the recovery. If the class action is unsuccessful, the attorneys who advanced litigation costs recover nothing.