Class Actions 101: Everything You Need to Know


Class action lawsuits are often highly publicized, leading individuals to wonder whether they can join the case. You may have heard of a class action suit that involves a product you’ve used or a company you’ve worked with, or you may have even received a notice that you’re included as a plaintiff in a class action. It’s always important to be informed on legal matters that involve you, so you should understand what a class action lawsuit is, how the legal proceedings unfold, and how you can go about joining one.

What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit filed by a group of people against a single defendant. In a class action suit, the plaintiffs all suffered similar physical or financial injuries that they claim are the defendant’s responsibility. If the parties reach a settlement or if the plaintiffs succeed in the lawsuit, they will split the compensation.

The details of a class action lawsuit can vary dramatically from case to case. Some of the most common themes are defective or dangerous products, workplace-related problems, fraudulent business practices, or fraudulent information regarding investments.

The length of the lawsuit can vary as well. Some class action suits only take a few months, but others continue for many years. On average, two to three years pass between the filing of the lawsuit and the final court proceedings. Companies that want to avoid negative publicity may try to settle quickly before the suit gains much attention. Larger and wealthier corporations, on the other hand, are more likely to fight the lawsuit as they have the funds and resources to do so while maintaining their public image.

Certifying a Class Action Lawsuit

To proceed with a class action, the lawsuit must be certified by a judge. The certification procedure is different for federal and state cases, and the process can vary between individual states as well. Generally, class action lawsuits must meet these criteria to be certified:

  • Numerosity: There must be a large enough group of claimants to warrant a class action lawsuit instead of individual cases.
  • Commonality: All claims must be based on the same problem.
  • Typicality: The claim made by the lead plaintiff must be very similar or identical to the claims made by the others involved in the suit.
  • Adequacy: The lead plaintiff must fairly and adequately represent the interests of the rest of the claimants.

Notable Examples of Class Action Lawsuits

The following are some of the most publicized and notable class action lawsuits in the United States:

Brown v. Board of Education: This lawsuit was filed by several families in Topeka, Kansas, in the early 1950s. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which led to the Court’s historic ruling that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill: The BP oil spill in 2016 led to a $20 million settlement between BP, the federal government, and the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

Volkswagen emissions scandal: In 2016, a class action lawsuit against Volkswagen was settled for more than $14 billion after the company was found attempting to cheat emission tests. The settlement included cash payments as well as funds for vehicle buybacks.

Amgen class action lawsuit: Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Amgen after discovering that the biotech company made misleading claims about the safety of two of their drugs, which affected the company’s stock prices. The Amgen class action lawsuit spent almost 10 years in litigation, but a settlement of $95 million was approved in 2016.

Advantages of Class Action Lawsuits

Class action lawsuits allow people who have been affected by dangerous products, questionable business practices, and other issues to receive damages. Filing a claim alone is expensive, time-consuming, and stressful, and it simply isn’t a feasible choice for many people. Joining a class action suit is more accessible for the average person.

Class action suits can also prevent courts from becoming overwhelmed by a large number of individual claims regarding the same problem. Although a class action lawsuit can take several years, it’s a more efficient option for the court than handling hundreds of separate cases.

A class action lawsuit can lead to a company improving its business practices, too, which benefits all consumers. They may be required by the court to change their practices, or they may choose to in order to avoid future lawsuits.

Risks of Class Action Lawsuits

Class action lawsuits can be a valuable legal option in many situations, but potential plaintiffs should be aware of the risks. If the plaintiffs lose a class action lawsuit, none of the claimants will receive compensation. Additionally, by joining the lawsuit, you give up your right to file an individual claim. If you have any interest in pursuing a claim independently, you should consult with an attorney before joining the class action.

Receiving a Class Action Notice

Some people choose to join class action lawsuits, and others may be included in the claim without their knowledge. If you’ve been involved in an organization or have purchased a product that is now the subject of a class action, you might receive a notice by mail or email about the legal proceedings. The notice should explain why the class action is occurring and why you’re involved. It will also explain whether you need to opt in or out of the lawsuit and how you can do so.

How to Join a Class Action

Class action lawsuits are open to anyone who believes they were physically or financially injured in the way the claim describes. The easiest way to learn about current class action lawsuits is through the internet. There are several websites dedicated to compiling information regarding class actions, and you can read these lists to discover whether or not you qualify to join any lawsuits. If you’re curious about a lawsuit regarding a specific item you own or an experience you’ve had, you can search for that topic and “class action” to find news about a claim.

You may or may not be notified if the plaintiffs are awarded compensation. Sometimes, plaintiffs receive a letter or email with instructions for collecting the award. For exceptionally large lawsuits, though, the lawyers involved may not be able to contact everyone. In this case, you should stay current on news regarding the lawsuit by searching online for updates.

How to Start a Class Action

Starting a class action lawsuit is a bigger endeavor than joining an existing one. However, this is an option if you’ve been injured and believe that others may have had the same experience. If you believe you have a case, you should speak to a class action attorney as soon as possible.

A class action suit requires one individual to act as the lead plaintiff, or the person who represents the interests of everyone involved. The lead plaintiff consults directly with the attorney, files the lawsuit alongside their attorney, and may be required to testify in court. In most cases, they receive a larger share of the final reward. As the originator of the lawsuit, you’ll likely have the opportunity to act as the lead plaintiff for the case. You and your attorney should discuss whether or not you’d like to take on this role and what you can expect over the course of the lawsuit.

Class action lawsuits can be lengthy and complicated, but they provide a valuable opportunity to seek compensation if you’ve been hurt or wronged. If you have any questions or concerns regarding a class action, consult with an attorney you trust.

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