A person may be able to start a class action if he or she is injured, either financially or physically, because of the wrongful actions of a corporation and believes others were harmed in the same way.
Class action lawsuits allow hundreds or potentially thousands of individuals to join together and take legal action against a person or entity in instances when it would not be financially viable for them to file individual lawsuits.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How Many People Are Needed for a Class Action?
Class actions can be started by just one person or a small group of people, and are filed on behalf of all those who suffered similar injury or financial harm. In general, if at least several dozen people were injured in a comparable way, it may be appropriate to file a class action. After a lawsuit has been filed, a judge will evaluate whether enough people have been injured in the same way, among other factors, in determining whether the case can move forward as a class action.
- Who Can File a Class Action Lawsuit?
In general, anyone can start a class action lawsuit; however, there are certain requirements that must be met. Anyone who wants to start a class action should first speak with an attorney experienced in handling these types of cases. He or she can help determine whether a class action lawsuit can be filed.
- How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?
Most class action lawyers do not get paid unless the case is successful. In these instances, the attorney handling the case will receive a percentage of the final settlement or court award.
- Can I Receive a Financial Reward for Starting a Class Action?
At the conclusion of a class action, the lead plaintiffs may receive an "incentive award" for serving as the class representative. This award is intended to compensate the lead plaintiff for filing the lawsuit and for actively participating in the case.
- If I Want to Talk to a Lawyer, What Will I Need?
Most class action law firms offer free consultations either online, in person or on the phone. During this consultation, the attorney may ask about the details of the potential case and request supporting documentation if he or she believes a lawsuit can be filed. For instance, if you believe your dryer caught fire due to a design error, the attorney may ask you for photos of the damage and documents, such as receipts or paperwork, pertaining to recent repairs or services to the machine.
Because courts tend to dismiss frivolous lawsuits, the attorney will want to make sure his or her potential client has a valid claim before filing a case. The attorney may research the outcomes of cases involving similar allegations, determine which federal and state laws, if any, have been broken, and find out how many other people may have been harmed in the same way as his or her client.
Filing a Complaint - The Document That Starts a Class Action
The legal document that officially starts a class action is called a "class action complaint." After an attorney has reviewed and investigated the factual and legal issues at hand and determined that a lawsuit can be filed, he or she will draft a class action complaint. The complaint will describe the events that caused the injury or financial harm suffered by the client.
The complaint will also state that the lawsuit seeks to recover compensation for the person filing the suit (known as the "lead plaintiff") and for all other individuals who suffered the same type of harm. For example, if you are filing a class action lawsuit against your employer for discriminating against you on account of your age, the suit may seek to represent all other employees of the company who also faced age discrimination.
Requirements for Filing a Class Action
While an experienced attorney will do his or her best to ensure their clients' claims meet the requirements for filing class actions, it is a judge who decides whether a case can officially proceed as a class action.
The Judge Will Consider the Following Questions:
How Many People Are Affected?
A large number of people must have been harmed by the actions of the company that is being sued. If only a small handful of people have been injured, the judge may decide that these people should file individual lawsuits rather than a class action.
Do Class Members Share Common Questions of Law and Fact?
The lawsuit must involve factual and legal issues that are common to all class members. In addition, the class members should all have suffered the same injury.
Are the Plaintiff's Legal Claims Typical of All Class Members?
The person or people bringing the lawsuit (known as the "named" or "lead" plaintiffs) should have claims and injuries that are typical of all potential class members. In general, if the named plaintiffs will serve the interests of the proposed class by advancing their own interests, this requirement will be satisfied. For instance, if the named plaintiff has suffered a significantly greater degree of harm than the average class member, the judge may rule that the plaintiff should file an individual lawsuit rather than a class action because his or her claim is not typical of all class members.
Is the Potential Class Adequately Represented?
The plaintiff and his or her attorneys must have a sufficient interest in the case to adequately represent all of the class members. In general, the attorneys representing the class should have experience handling class actions and complex litigation.
Example of Class Certification
A judge grants class certification in a lawsuit filed on behalf of anyone in the United States who purchased Tinderfalls' Whisper 500 dishwasher in the past three years for personal use. The judge rules that while the exact number of people who bought the dishwasher cannot yet be determined, he believes that thousands have purchased the dishwashers and that the exact number of class members could be determined at a later point.
Furthermore, he rules that the "common questions of law and fact" apply to all class members, including whether the dishwashers contain a defect, whether the company concealed the defect, and whether the company should be required to disgorge all or part of the profits made through sale of the defective dishwashers.
He also rules that the lead plaintiff has "substantially the same interest in this matter" in that he and all members of the class own or owned a Whisper 500 dishwasher designed or manufactured by Tinderfalls with the same defect. Lastly, the judge rules that the plaintiff and the class are adequately represented by competent attorneys experienced in products liability, deceptive trade practices and class action litigation. In meeting these requirements, the judge rules that the case can be certified as a class action lawsuit.