A class action is filed by one individual or a group of individuals on behalf of a large number of people who have suffered a similar injury or financial harm.
Type of Class Actions
Class action lawsuits often involve consumer fraud, misleading advertising, or defective products, such as household appliances or construction products.
The legal document that starts a class action is known as a complaint. A complaint describes the facts of the case and is filed in a court of law.
The person filing a class action lawsuit is known as the class representative, the lead plaintiff or the named plaintiff.
The larger group of people that a class action represents is known as the class. Anyone who meets the definition of the class is known as a class member.
Class Action Notice
You don't need to do anything to "join" a class action. If you are a class member, you may receive a notice in the mail if the case settles. The notice will contain information about the lawsuit and how you can claim your portion of the settlement.
It doesn't cost anything to be a class member and you can't "get in trouble" for participating in a class action.
You can opt out of any class action lawsuit if you do not wish to participate.
Mass Torts Are Different
Class actions are not the same as mass tort lawsuits. Mass tort lawsuits generally involve dangerous drugs and defective pharmaceutical devices, and are filed individually. Therefore, even if a defective medical device has injured thousands of patients, each injured person will have to file his or her own lawsuit to receive compensation.
Most Will Settle
Class action lawsuits can either settle or go to trial. Most will settle.
Lawyers Receive a Percentage
Class action lawyers only get paid if they win. They usually collect a percentage of the settlement or receive a fee award separate from the settlement fund. A judge must review the attorneys' request for fees to make sure it is reasonable.
Compensation Will Be Given Out
Class members generally receive the same amount of compensation from a settlement. In some cases, however, a formula will determine the amount of compensation owed to each member and will be applied uniformly to the entire class. If any money is left over, it will either be distributed to remaining class members, returned to the defendant or donated to a charity or non-profit organization as a "cy pres" award.
You May Not Know You're a Class Member
It is possible that a case in which you are a class member can be filed and resolved without you ever knowing about it. You may not know you are a class member until you receive a class notice letting you know that the case has settled. Furthermore, if the identity of the class members is unknown, notices may not be sent. Instead, they may be posted in magazines or newspapers that class members are likely to read.
Some Class Actions Are Opt-In
Some class action lawsuits are opt-in lawsuits. In an opt-in lawsuit, class members will have to affirmatively elect to join the case to receive compensation from any resulting settlement or court award. Opt-in lawsuits typically involve allegations of wage and hour violations (such as unpaid overtime or failure to pay minimum wage) or employment discrimination. Potential class members of an opt-in case may receive a notice in the mail informing them of their right to join the case and how to do so.