Class actions are a type of suit that allows a group of claimants to join together in a common cause of action against a product maker for making a defective product. This enables efficiency in the judicial system because thousands of injured individuals might flood the court system if they each filed a suit independently of one another. In addition, class actions help to level the playing field between corporations and plaintiffs because large corporations have a substantial amount of money and lawyers.

They originated in the United States, and the majority of them are still filed there, although Britain, Canada, and other countries whose legal systems allow for it do see class action lawsuits.

There are both plaintiff class actions and defendant class actions. In this case, we will largely focus on plaintiff class actions since defendant class actions are very rare.

What are The Requirements of a Class Action?

There are several requirements that a cause of action must meet in order to be allowed to proceed as a class action. These include:

  • Numerosity: or, large number of people. There must be many individuals who suffered injury on the part of the product maker's negligence. 
    • Normally, there must be over 30 members to even be considered as a class action. Although there is no specific rule about numbers of people, it is generally one that would make it impractical to add them all to the lawsuit as named plaintiffs.
  • Commonality: A question of law or fact that is common to the parties. This means that all class members must have been injured by the same product.
  • Typicality: The representatives of all class members must have similar litigation interests in common with all members. This will ensure that representatives will adequately represent the interests of all.
  • Adequate Representation: The representative classes must have the financial resources and representation to fully proceed with the case.

The person who files the lawsuit is known as the lead plaintiff, or class representative. They are responsible for hiring an attorney, paying fees and being present throughout the legal proceedings. They must meet the class requirements. This person will be the named plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Member of the class who are notified of the action because they meet the class requirements remain members unless they choose to opt out. They are, therefore, bound by the results of the action, and entitled to compensation of the class action is successful.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Class Action Lawsuits

There are advantages to both individuals and to the legal system of the filing of class action lawsuits. Some of these advantages are:

  • Efficiency: by combining so many plaintiffs with the same reason for filing a lawsuit, efficiency is vastly improved. Particularly where there are hundreds of members of a class, the combining of all their interests into one saves much time and many resources.
  • Overcomes the Small Recovery Problem: normally, many of the plaintiffs would not bother to take on the time and expense of a lawsuit on their own for a potentially small financial compensation, assuming they even win their case.
  • Changing Behavior: if a class of defendants is named, the goal may be to get them to change an offensive behavior by threatening them with consequences.
  • Overcomes the Limited Funds Problem: Many plaintiffs, even if they desire to file a lawsuit, do not have the means to do so.
  • Leads to less confusion in courts setting legal precedents, since they are dealing with one case with many plaintiffs, instead of many cases with many plaintiffs.

There are also some disadvantages involved with class action lawsuits. These include:

  • Financial recovery to class action plaintiffs is often very small;
  • This can keep plaintiffs from separately litigating their own action; and
  • Class action notices can be confusing, being written in complicated legal language. 
    • Often, when class members are notified, they will have had no previous knowledge of the lawsuit.

Should I Proceed with a Class Action?

Consumers of a product might receive notice by mail or in person of a pending class action lawsuit. The notice might ask a consumer whether they want to join in a class action lawsuit. Consumers should consider several factors such as:

  • Who are the representatives?
  • Would I be better off proceeding on my own?
  • Will the proposed recovery benefit my needs?

Class members can choose to opt out of the class, if they receive timely notice and are aware of how to proceed. There might be occasions where you have no choice but to participate in the class action because the "opt-out" deadline has passed.

Should I Consult an Attorney?

An experienced product liability attorney who specializes in class actions would be extremely helpful. A class action attorney could advise you on whether a proposed class action adequately represents your needs. In addition, you may want to proceed with your own lawsuit because your injuries are substantially different from the class action.