Some of you have been wondering what sort of legal wizardry attorneys use to know who’s covered by a class action and, perhaps more importantly, how to find them. Good news! That’s exactly what we’re going to be exploring in this installment of Class Action FAQs!
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It may seem like attorneys have some sort of sixth sense for knowing who’s covered by a class action – they know which products people bought, what services they subscribed to, or even where they went to school or worked. They also seemingly have a knack for finding the home and e-mail addresses of these people and contacting them out of the blue.
I can assure you, though, this process isn’t as mysterious or malicious as it may sound. After we take a closer look at how this phase of a class action works, you’ll have a better understanding of how the entire process fits together.
So hang on – we’ve only just begun this quest and we’ve already made our first…
All joking aside, discovery is the pre-trial phase of a lawsuit. In the discovery phase, the defendant can be required to present all documents, electronic or otherwise, that relate to the allegations they’re facing. Any of the documents can then be submitted as evidence to either prove the plaintiff’s claims or to defend against them.
For example, let’s say that a hardware store isn’t taking the proper measures to protect its customers’ personal and credit card information from being stolen in a data breach. A few of the company’s higher-ups send emails back and forth weighing the cost of a security upgrade with the risk of customers’ information actually being leaked – and they decide to continue with business as usual. If their system is breached and a class action is filed, those emails would be considered documentation that must be brought forward during the discovery phase of the lawsuit.
Along with documentation concerning the case, class action attorneys can also request a list of the company’s customers who may have been affected by the allegations presented in the class action. Maybe these people purchased an affected product or signed up for a specific service that was taking money from customers. Either way, companies usually have a record of these things. Back at the hardware store, the company would have a record of anyone who swiped their credit or debit cards during the weeks or months the system was vulnerable.
In instances where customer information isn’t obtained via discovery, attorneys for the defendant may be ordered to deliver a list of affected parties to the settlement administrator once a deal is reached. This would be the same settlement administrator appointed by the court to operate the settlement site and handle all claims filed by class members when the time comes – and they will also be tasked with contacting affected consumers.
For instance, in this case involving General Motors, the auto manufacturer was ordered to give a settlement administration company a list of affected VINs. The company then used this information, along with vehicle registration data and U.S. Postal change of address information, to find the addresses of drivers who could file claims with the settlement. Something similar happened with T-Mobile’s 2021 data breach settlement.
So, the company has handed over a list of affected people. What’s next? Well, I’m glad you asked, because the next thing that needs to happen is sending out the…
Class Action Notices
Once a lawsuit has settled, the attorneys handling the case will usually work with a settlement administrator, a third party who helps manage the settlement process and, among other things, sends out class action notices.
A class action notice simply lets people know that their rights may be affected by a class action that was recently filed or settled. If the case was recently filed, the attorneys just want people to be aware of the litigation going forward and, if the case has already settled, the notice will usually instruct people on how to claim part of the settlement. From there, it is essentially a golden ticket for anyone who was affected by the class action to claim their prize.
Check out the notice for the Old Navy misleading sale price settlement here. These notices typically follow the same format and give the same relevant information. At the top, the notice tells you what court the case was filed in, what company settled and what the case was about. In this case, Old Navy settled a class action filed in California Superior Court over its allegedly misleading sale prices. From there, it gives you a glimpse of your legal rights and options as a class member, as well as some important deadlines, in a handy little table.
After that, it gives you some basic information about the notice and the lawsuit, including:
- Who’s included in the settlement
- Benefits of the settlement
- How and why you would exclude yourself from the settlement
- The lawyers handling the case
- How you could let the court know you object to the settlement
- Information about the court’s settlement fairness hearing
- What happens if you do nothing
The notice also provides several avenues to getting more information including an address, a phone number and the settlement website.
It’s Not Spam!
So, when you get that piece of mail that says someone owes you money, be sure to check and see if it’s a class action notice before you throw it away. The same goes for email. A few months ago, I assured my roommate (let’s call him Matt) that the email informing him about a settlement involving LinkedIn wasn’t a cleverly worded ruse.
What If I Didn’t Get A Notice?
There are some instances in which you may not have received a notice, but you feel like you’re definitely eligible to make a claim in a recently settled case. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you can’t claim a part of the settlement – it simply means that the settlement administrator couldn’t get the information for everyone who was affected. Many times, if the settlement administrator doesn’t have contact information for everyone covered by the lawsuit, they will attempt to reach them through other means – social media, newspaper and magazine ads, and the like.
A magazine notice could look something like this. Now, this notice probably wouldn’t have shown up in Guns & Ammo or Cosmo because that wouldn’t allow the settlement administrator to reach those who were most likely affected by the lawsuit. More than likely, a notice like this would have been published in a business or finance magazine since the lawsuit had to do with stocks. We keep a list of active settlements up on our site as well – you may be owed money right now!
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this look at what attorneys actually do to get a list of affected customers. This has been Ty Armstrong, and I’ll see you in the next episode of Class Action FAQs!
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