Hey guys, Ty Armstrong here. As Community Manager at ClassAction.org, I receive plenty of questions and comments about class action lawsuits. While not an attorney myself, I will be starting a series of blog posts addressing some of the most common questions. In our first installation, we are going to take a look at how to join a class action lawsuit. Now, get comfortable, pour yourself a warm beverage, because it’s time to embark on a magical quest – for knowledge.
How to Join a Class Action Lawsuit
Here’s where it begins: you find out that a product you use (we’ll use Kashi as an example) is at the center of a class action lawsuit. So, say Kashi is being sued for false advertising (this actually happened) and, as an avid Kashi customer, you would like to be compensated for buying a product that wasn’t what it claimed to be. So, how do you get in on the case? Simple. You do nothing. You wait for the case to settle. And, in this case, as well as many others, that would be the correct thing to do. You see, most class action lawsuits are known as opt-out class actions, meaning that if your legal rights are affected by a class action, then you are included in the case unless you choose to exclude yourself from it.
So, Kashi settled the lawsuit, both in our example and in reality, and now you want to claim your part of the settlement fund. Here’s the part where you get to fill out a form and get a check in the mail.
After a case settles, the settlement’s administrators will have a website set up with information about the case and how you can receive your money, refund, coupon, etc. In some cases, you may receive an e-mail or notice via regular mail telling that you could take part in a settlement and directing you to the settlement website. (We keep links to settlement pages on our site here.) After you fill out the claim form on the settlement site, your award will come in the mail. It’s as simple as that – no joining involved, just filling out a form online when the case settles to claim your piece.
My $27.50 check from the Kashi settlement should be here in a couple months.
Types of Lawsuits That Require Action on Your Part
While less frequent, there are a couple of instances where more than just waiting around is needed in order to get your piece of any eventual settlement.
Some class actions require those affected to opt-in (aka join) in order to be included in the lawsuit. Opt-in class actions usually involve allegations of illegal employment practices. For instance, there are lawsuits currently taking place in the airline industry that claim certain carriers haven’t been paying their flight attendants like they should. In these instances, it’s important that those affected opt-in to the lawsuits.
Like when a case settles, this usually involves filling out a form and sending it in. But how would you ever know about the lawsuit to begin with? Well, much like when an opt-out class action settles, you’ll receive a notice in the mail saying that your rights may be affected by a lawsuit and providing instructions on how to opt-in or “join” the case – and this all generally happens before the case reaches the settlement stage. From there, it will proceed like a regular class action and, if successful, you’ll likely receive another notice in the mail telling you about a settlement and the award you are entitled to.
Then, there are mass torts. A mass tort lawsuit often involves dangerous pharmaceutical products or defective medical devices.
Recently, there have been a number of lawsuits filed against transvaginal mesh manufacturers claiming that their products caused serious harm to many women – and these cases are all known as “mass torts.” It’s important to remember that mass tort lawsuits are not the same thing as class actions for a number of reasons – and the main difference between the two is that mass tort lawsuits are filed individually, whereas in a class action, one person is filing a lawsuit on behalf of hundreds or potentially thousands of people.
Therefore, if you’ve been injured by a medical device or drug, there probably isn’t a class action you can join. Chances are, you’ve lost thousands in medical bills and wages and have experienced extensive pain and suffering – and the level of harm and amount of damages you suffered probably warrants the filing of your own lawsuit and hiring your own attorney. Keep in mind, class actions often award tens of dollars to claimants, while those pursuing mass tort lawsuits often end up seeing hundreds of thousands of dollars in recovery because their injuries (heart attacks, diabetes diagnoses, revision surgeries) are much more serious than falling victim to false advertising.
There you have it, a brief look at taking part in class action lawsuits and hopefully it answered some of your questions. If you’d like more info about class action lawsuits, feel free to check out our learn page. Thanks for stopping by and checking out our site, we look forward to answering more questions in our next ClassAction.org FAQ!