A class action is a lawsuit brought by one or more people as representatives of a larger group, or class, of similarly situated people. A consumer class action is a lawsuit on behalf of consumers against a particular business or corporation whose product has injured the members of the consumer class. Typically, members of a class action lawsuit must all have been harmed in the same way, if not to the same extent, by a defective product or some other wrong.
Class action lawsuits can be filed in every state in the U.S., but the highest number of them tend to be filed in certain states, such as California, New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas. Class actions in U.S. district courts are regulated by federal laws such as the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), which allows any class action with damages greater than $5 million to be moved from a state court to a federal court.
Why Should I File a Class Action?
A class action is often the best option If one person has suffered only a relatively minor loss, such as one with a value between $10 and a few thousand dollars. Given the low value of the person’s loss, it might not make sense financially for them to sue the person or company that caused their injury on their own.
A class action lawsuit is a way to provide a remedy to a large group of people who suffered harm due to the action of a corporation but only had a small loss in terms of its monetary value. Again, class action lawsuits are usually filed by one person or a small group of people on behalf of all those harmed in the same way. While all of the class members are not the ones who file the lawsuit, they will be able to receive a part of any settlement or court award that results from the case because they are class members.
What Are Some Examples of Class Action Lawsuits?
One historic class action was memorialized in a popular movie. That is the case of Anderson v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a class action that resulted in a $333 million settlement for the victims in 1996. The film “Erin Brockovich” tells the story of this famous case. At the time of the settlement, it was the largest in U.S. history.
The case was filed by the citizens of Hinkley, California, who claimed that the Pacific Gas and Electric company had dumped wastewater that it knew was contaminated with chromium-6, a known carcinogen since 1925, into the area’s groundwater.
In addition to paying monetary damages, PG&E had to clean up the contaminated groundwater and stop using chromium-6.
What Are the Fortnite Class Action Suits?
In a more recent class action case, the users of the popular computer game Fortnite, produced by the Epic Games company, have sued because a security breach allowed hackers to access their personal information. This class action is pending in the U.S. District Court in North Carolina. It claims that Epic failed to establish adequate security measures and notify users promptly when the security breach occurred. There may be more than 100 class members in this case.
In late 2022, another class action lawsuit against Epic Games was certified by a judge. Parents of children who play the game have sued Epic, claiming that the game was intentionally designed to addict young people and failed to warn users of the dangers the game poses to the mental health of young players.
Was Asbestos Exposure the Source of Many Class Action Claims?
Perhaps the largest and most successful class action lawsuits concerned cancer known as mesothelioma, which is caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the smooth lining of the chest, lungs, heart, and abdomen. The cancer is virtually untreatable, and most people diagnosed with mesothelioma do not survive. Even though asbestos has been banned in over 55 countries, mesothelioma exposure still kills more than 2,500 Americans yearly.
Asbestos was used widely in everything from residential construction as wall sheeting to gaskets and brake pads in machinery. Factory workers who produced products that incorporated asbestos were exposed to the material with catastrophic results.
Some hundreds of thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma pursued recovery for personal injury in several ways, one of which was through class action lawsuits. Some manufacturers of asbestos products went bankrupt because of their liability, but they created a settlement fund to provide damage awards to asbestos victims before they went out of business.
The use of asbestos has declined greatly in recent decades because its dangers are understood, but it can take as long as 20 to 50 years for mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure. So, as noted above, some 2500 people are still diagnosed with this rare cancer every year.
Are There Other Ways for Many People to File a Lawsuit Together?
In certain cases, people suing a common defendant may consolidate their lawsuits for certain purposes as multidistrict litigation (MDL). Multidistrict litigation is a process that allows many injured parties to consolidate their cases for some of the procedural portions of their lawsuits. The lawyers for the injured parties may join together in filing pretrial motions. Or, they may work collaboratively to discover evidence during the discovery phase of a lawsuit.
An example of multidistrict litigation is the transvaginal mesh lawsuits in West Virginia.
This would be allowed because the lawsuits share common questions of fact, so having certain phases conducted by all parties in concert is more efficient and makes sense. However, MDL differs from class actions because MDL participants file individual lawsuits. They might take part in a consolidated trial or settlement.
Then there are what are referred to as “mass torts.” This is any civil action in which many people have suffered a personal injury and sued the manufacturer, distributor, or another responsible party. For example, they may all have been injured by a medical device defect, a prescription medication’s harmful side-effect, or a consumer product malfunction. Mass torts might be prosecuted as a class action lawsuit, an MDL, or a consolidation procedure.
What Are the Legal Issues Involved in Consumer Class Actions?
Consumer protection lawsuits encompass a wide variety of complaints relating to consumer products. Some common issues in consumer class actions include the following:
- Unfair or Deceptive Business Practices;
- Fraudulent misrepresentation;
- False Advertising;
- Charging Excessive Fees or Interest Rates;
- Failure to Warn of Product Defects;
- Sham Services.
What Can I Recover as a Member of a Consumer Class Action Lawsuit?
Of course, the recovery in each class action lawsuit varies according to the action. Often class members are entitled to an award of damages paid out of a large fund of the money recovered from the party responsible for the harm caused.
However, each class member’s share is often quite small because the harm each one suffered individually is not great. Class members may also be awarded free products or services, often in rebates. If a person is a class member in a consumer class action, they must read the class notice carefully, as it will contain deadlines and may require the person to respond by submitting a claim. A class member must do what they are directed to do in notices to recover part of any settlement.
What Is the Effect of a Class Action on my Legal Rights?
If a person is a member of a class action lawsuit, it is important to understand that they will be bound by the court’s judgment and will have no further recourse if they are dissatisfied with the outcome. It may be more beneficial for them to pursue a lawsuit of their own instead of participating in the class action. Before deciding whether to opt out of a class or submit a claim, a person may wish to contact an attorney to learn about their legal rights.
How Can a Lawyer Help with My Class Action Consumer Protection Issue?
If you believe you have a consumer protection or other issue and that other people may have been injured in the same or similar way that you have been harmed, you want to consult a consumer lawyer.
Your lawyer may know of existing cases with established classes you might join. Or your lawyer may advise you that it would be better to start a new class action lawsuit to protect your rights and those of others in your situation. Or, your lawyer may advise that filing an individual lawsuit on your own is your best bet to recover for the harm you have suffered.