A class action lawsuit is one in which a group of people compile their similar complaints and sue the defendant as a group. In these lawsuits a group of people, known as the class, join together to sue a single entity that is responsible for causing the class members harm.

This works to save the court time and resources by allowing a singular judge to hear the consolidated complaints, as one singular large case, instead of multiple small individual cases.

The members of the class must have suffered similar harm or losses. One classic example of a class-action lawsuit is a suit filed against a tobacco company by a large group of smokers. The lawsuit usually starts as a putative class action, which means there actually is not a class attached to the lawsuit, but rather a group of people who are potential plaintiffs.

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.

What are the Requirements for Certifying a Class?

There are several requirements a court will consider when deciding on whether to certify a class. These requirements vary from state to state, but most of the requirements generally follow the same broad requirements. The following are the factors considered by most courts in a class-action lawsuit:

  • Numerosity: there must be an adequate number of plaintiffs (usually over 30) to prove that it wouldn’t make sense to bring separate lawsuits;
  • Commonality: there must be common damages and legal issues (the allegations are presumed to be true for the purposes of certification, as the trial has not yet started);
  • Typicality: each class member’s claim must come from the same event, and must make the same legal argument (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 (there must not be any conflicts of interest and they must be competent); and
  • Viability of Defendant: the defendant should have sufficient finances 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, and it’s not simply a checklist. The judge is authorized with a decent amount of discretion, and has the power to dismiss the class action claim or allow the case to proceed. The arguments for and against certification can be complex.

How Do They Find Members of a Class?

Email is increasingly becoming the most common method of distributing class action notices; this is especially prevalent in persons that were harmed by electronic means. For example, in a class action lawsuit filed against Facebook for a violation in users privacy rights, mass emails were sent out to millions of Facebook users informing them they were a part of a class action and entitled to a share of a $20,000,000 settlement.

The email also informed them that they would lose their rights if they did not act. Many users did not follow the links or take action, because emails have long been susceptible to phishing scams. Although there is no hard fast way of determining if something is a phishing scam, internet research can be your best friend.

High profile cases, such as a class action against Facebook would be, will usually have some sort of news coverage. Also, notices sent via email should contain a statement that the court has preliminarily approved of the settlement and should also contain a court location and case number. All courts have a clerk number that you may call to confirm if a case is real or not.

In cases like the Facebook case, when you receive an email, you have decisions that you need to make. First, you need to 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 stating that you do not wish to be included in the settlement. A person who does this will keep their rights to sue individually.

What happens if I don’t opt out? In the case where you stay in a settlement, you have two options: either make a claim for benefits or do nothing at all (receiving no benefits). Although benefits are commonly automatic, in many cases 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 the person losing any right to sue in the future.

Thus, 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 and decide whether to opt in or opt out of the class action. Remember failing to opt out of a claim that directly impacted you, will ultimately result in not being able to bring an individual claim later.

Who Pays the Lawyers in a Class Action Lawsuit?

Lawyers who represent a class action suit usually 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 usually 25-35% of the awarded damages or settlement.

Should I Contact a Lawyer if I Want to File or Join a Class Action Lawsuit?

Class action lawsuits are very complicated and complex. Hiring an experienced and resourceful class action attorney is your best course of action as they will represent your best interests in court.

An experienced personal injury attorney can assist you in filing the necessary paperwork or represent you in court, if necessary. If you or a group of people have experienced similar harm or losses by a singular entity, you should immediately seek a lawyer to begin the process.