When a large group of people has similar grievances about a product or service, they can join together and file suit, allowing them to pool their resources and show the problem with the product or service wasn’t just by chance but had sweeping effects.
Class action lawsuits can include hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs, all with similar issues.
In some cases, people don’t even realize they have the opportunity to take legal action until they are notified they might be a member of the class. It’s a special method for dealing with large groups of people who share a common issue, such as losses or injuries due to the negligence of the defendant.
One of the primary benefits of class action lawsuits is the ability they give individuals to take legal action without concern for expensive legal bills. The cost of litigation is spread across the group and fees are taken from the amount recovered.
You can participate in a class without spending any money at all.
When are Class Action Lawsuits Filed?
Class actions are common when plaintiffs share a specific complaint or outcome.
They are often used in cases of:
- Fraudulent business practices, including false claims about a product
- Dangerous or defective products
- Discrimination in the workplace
- Securities fraud
- Environmental disasters
Class actions are similar to mass tort lawsuits but differ in that they treat the plaintiffs as a single group. Mass torts address much of the legal process as a single case, but each plaintiff must prove his or her individual case.
In class actions, all of the plaintiffs are treated as a single plaintiff and all are bound by a single verdict. Most class actions are focused on claims that are purely economic and rarely deal with injuries or health issues because they can vary so much from person to person.
Is Participation in a Class Action Required?
If you’ve been affected by a product or service and a class action lawsuit is filed, you are not required to be a member of the class. Each person is given the opportunity to opt in or opt out.
Should you choose to opt into the class, you relinquish your right to take individual legal action against the defendant regarding the issue. If you opt out, you still have this right, but you are relinquishing your opportunity to recover damages as part of the class.
Should you choose to pursue legal action outside of the class, you’ll be responsible for your legal fees and proving your case on an individual basis.
What Do I Get If I’m a Member of the Class?
As a member of a class, you’ll be entitled to any of the benefits recovered.
Class action lawsuits often settle before going to trial, but some are decided by a jury or judgment in favor of the plaintiffs or defendant. There are also times when the class action is dismissed.
In most cases, if the case is settled or decided in favor of the plaintiffs, you’ll receive a financial award. Some cases also include non-financial benefits, such as coupons or vouchers for merchandise. There might also be requirements on the part of the defendant, such as changing practices related to manufacturing or marketing.
Benefits in a class action settlement or judgment are typically given in a lump sum and then divided among members of the class. This means the more people who join the class the less each receives.
Notice of how benefits will be distributed is typically included in the fine print of the class action notification.
Though a class action settlement or award might seem small, many people view it as getting something they would have otherwise not received had they not joined the class. The representatives of the class have done the hard work and its members can enjoy the benefits with little to no effort.