A class action is a lawsuit that is brought by one or more people on behalf of a group of other people who are in a similar legal situation. Everyone involved is required to share similar legal issues, and there must be enough individuals involved that it would not make sense to bring separate lawsuits.
Additionally, the class must be certified by the court in order to bring an action. The court will consider the following factors before certification:
- Whether the plaintiffs will adequately represent the interests of the whole class;
- Whether there are any conflicts of interest;
- Whether the plaintiffs are competent;
- If the claims of the representatives are similar and represent the entire class; and
- The question of fact must come from one act or a pattern of conduct by the defendant.
Initially, a person or group of people will bring a putative class action lawsuit against the defendant. If the court decides to certify the lawsuit as a class action, the original group will represent the entire class action group, and it will move forward as a class action lawsuit.
If the court refuses to certify the class, they will generally explain their reasoning. Most commonly, it is because they do not think the class is complete; meaning, there could be more potential plaintiffs to join the class. Certifying a class will be further discussed later on.
Any person who may be affected by the class action lawsuit is entitled to receive notice of its initiation. This notice must include a description of the claim, as well as information regarding the fact that they can opt out of the class action if they wish to do so. If they do opt out, they must be made aware that they will not be able to bring forth their own claim in the future.
Because many class action lawsuits are considerably large, notices of class actions can be put in:
- TV commercials; or
- Mailing lists.
Depending on the circumstances, it is possible for a potential class member who did not join the class to bring forward their suit if they simply had no idea that there was a class action.
What Are The Requirements For Certifying A Class?
To reiterate, before a class-action lawsuit can proceed, a judge must certify this group of plaintiffs as a class. A class action is the best course of action when a standard civil injury lawsuit will not adequately include everyone that has a claim for suing the defendant.
There are several requirements that a court will consider when determining whether to certify a class. These requirements vary from state to state. However, the following are the factors considered by most courts in a class-action lawsuit:
- Numerosity: There must be an adequate number of plaintiffs, generally more than thirty, in order to prove that it would not make sense to bring separate lawsuits;
- Commonality: There must be common damages and legal issues. It is important to note that the allegations are presumed to be true for the purposes of certification, as the trial has not yet begun;
- Typicality: Each class member’s claim must come from the same event. They must also make the same legal argument, meaning a common set of facts or legal interest;
- Adequacy of Representation: The representative plaintiff must adequately protect and represent the interests of the whole class. Simply put, there must not be any conflicts of interest, and they must be competent; and
- Viability of Defendant: The defendant must have sufficient finances with which to pay all of the members of a class, if the suit is successful.
Having the class certified is the most important step in a class action lawsuit. The judge is authorized with a considerable amount of discretion, and has the power to dismiss the class action claim or allow the case to proceed. As such, the arguments for and against certification can be complex.
How Are Class Members Located And Notified?
Email has quickly become the most common method of distributing class action notices, especially for people that were harmed by electronic means. An example of this would be how in a class action lawsuit filed against Facebook for a violation associated with users privacy rights, mass emails were sent out to millions of Facebook users. This email informed them that they were a part of a class action and as such, were entitled to a share of a $20,000,000 settlement.
The email also informed them that they would lose their right to sue if they did not act. Many users did not follow the links or take action, because emails have long been susceptible to phishing scams. While there is no one way of determining whether something is a phishing scam, internet research can be a solid starting point so that you do not lose out on any of your rights.
High profile cases generally have some sort of news coverage associated with them. Additionally, notices sent via email should contain a statement that the court has preliminarily approved of the settlement. They should also contain a court location, as well as a case number. All courts have a clerk number that you may call in order to confirm whether a case is legitimate.
When you receive an email, you should decide whether to stay in the class action settlement, or opt out. Opting out requires that you send a notice back to the settlement administrator which states that you do not wish to be included in the settlement. When you opt out, you will keep your rights to sue as an individual.
If you stay in a settlement, you can either make a claim for benefits or do nothing at all, receiving no benefits. While benefits are commonly automatic, a class member may be required to mail in or fill out a claim form online. Failing to opt out or file a claim for benefits results in losing any right to sue in the future.
In cases in which you have received notice that there is a large settlement, it is important for you to do your research on the validity of the case so that you can decide whether to opt in or opt out of the class action.
What Else Should I Know About Class Action Lawsuits In General?
Lawyers who represent a class action suit generally work on a contingency basis, meaning they are paid a percentage of whatever damages are awarded. This percentage must be reviewed and approved by the court, and is generally 25-35% of the awarded damages or settlement.
Class action settlements are common; the two parties will reach a settlement and then present it to the court. If the court approves the settlement, members of the suit can opt out of the settlement, and any member can object to the settlement with the court.
When the court is considering whether the settlement is fair, they will consider the injury suffered by the plaintiffs and the size of the class. If the settlement is considered to be low for a large class, each class member will receive very little. Depending on the nature of the injury, the court may require that the settlement be larger so that each class member can get a fair share.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Class Action Lawsuits?
Consulting with a class action attorney is your best course of action, as they will represent your best interests in court. An experienced class action attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and can inform you of any existing class action lawsuits that you can join.