Most people have heard of class action lawsuits, but few really know what they are. Class action lawsuits can be very complicated, but this article will give you a basic explanation of how they work and what purpose they serve.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
At times, several people are injured by the same act of negligence perpetrated by the same entity, often a large company. For example, class action lawsuits can be associated with defective products, such as a product negligently distributed by a large food manufacturer that has been contaminated with bacteria or toxin, resulting in health problems for hundreds or thousands of people.
When this happens, a group of people who have suffered an illness due to the tainted food might contact an attorney. This attorney will then discover that there are hundreds of people within his or her state who have fallen ill due to the same product; he or she will then decide to file a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer.
How Class Action Lawsuits Work
In order to initiate a class action lawsuit, the attorney will file a lawsuit naming the few individuals who have contacted him as plaintiffs. They will then become the “class representatives” for the case and will be suing on behalf of all individuals injured by the defendant’s (in this example, the food company’s) actions.
The lawyer must then ask the judge to “certify the class,” which means that the judge will decide whether continuing the case as a class action lawsuit is in the best interest of everyone involved. To make this determination, the judge will consider a number of factors:
- Whether or not it would be more practical for each affected individual to sue separately.
- Whether or not there is a close enough connection between each plaintiff’s injury and the cause of their injuries.
- Whether or not the defenses employed by the defendant will be the same for all who have been injured.
- Whether or not the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit can competently represent all members of the class, or in other words, everyone who might have a claim.
If the judge certifies the case as a class action lawsuit, the attorney must then notify all potential members of the class. At times, compiling a list of all individuals who might have a claim may be easy. This is the case when the individuals registered their purchase of the product in some way. For example, if the case involves an auto defect, the potential members of the class will have a car title that provides their name, address, and the make and model of the vehicle they own.
In other cases, it is simply impossible to compile a list and contact everyone who may have purchased and used the product. If so, the judge will require the attorney to notify the injured by other means. This might mean publicizing the case in a newspaper, magazine, television commercial, or radio ad.
The lawyer must notify all potential members of the class that a class action lawsuit has been filed and that each member has the right to participate or “opt out” and file their own lawsuit. If a member of the class does not “opt out” of the class action suit, they will be bound by the settlement or verdict received by the class as a whole.
Class Action Lawsuit vs. Multiple Plaintiff Lawsuit
Class action lawsuits should not be confused with multiple plaintiff lawsuits. If a lawsuit has 100 plaintiffs and each are named in the suit, it is not a class action lawsuit. Class action lawsuits are limited to only lawsuits wherein a number of plaintiffs are named and are suing on behalf of all unnamed others, who have also been injured by the defendant in the same or similar way.
The Purpose of Class Action Lawsuits
When several people are injured by the actions of a large company, yet their injuries may be too small to justify the costs of suing individually, class action lawsuits allow them to combine individual lawsuits into one lawsuit. This is often much more economically worthwhile to pursue. Without this, big companies might feel that they can harm people without recourse, as long as the harm is too small for it to be worthwhile for an individual plaintiff to sue.
Contact Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC Attorneys
If you or someone you love has been injured by a defective or dangerous product, learn about your legal right to pursue compensation from an experienced New Orleans personal injury lawyer by calling 504-581-4892 or by filling out our free, no obligation case review form.