What are class actions?

A class action lawsuit is a legal action in which a large group of people collectively bring a claim or claims against a defendant or defendants. The group, known as the “class,” usually has a common interest or suffered a similar harm or injury caused by the defendant’s actions. By bringing a class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs can pool their resources and share the costs of litigation, which can be substantial and often outweigh the amount that each individual could recover on their own. Class action lawsuits, therefore, are an efficient and effective way to resolve claims of unlawful conduct that harmed a large group of people.

Are there different types of class action lawsuits?

Class action lawsuits can be filed in a variety of contexts, including consumer protection, environmental law, employment law, securities law, and antitrust law, among others. In some cases, the class action lawsuit may seek monetary damages or compensation for harm suffered by the class, while in other cases, it may seek injunctive relief, such as requiring the defendant to stop engaging in a particular practice.

What are the benefits of a class action?

Class action lawsuits provide a powerful tool for individuals to seek justice against powerful defendants and hold them accountable for their actions. There are several benefits to bringing a class action lawsuit:

  1. Efficiency: Class actions allow multiple individuals with similar claims against the same defendant to combine their resources, evidence, and arguments. This makes the litigation process more efficient and reduces the burden on the court system.
  2. Fairness: Class actions provide a mechanism for individuals with relatively small claims to band together and pursue justice against a powerful or wealthy defendant. This can level the playing field and ensure that all class members have equal access to justice.
  3. Consistency: Class actions can promote consistency in the legal system by ensuring that similar claims are treated in the same way. This can prevent inconsistent or contradictory judgments from different courts or judges.
  4. Deterrence: Class actions can also serve as a deterrent to illegal or unethical behavior by defendants. The threat of a large-scale lawsuit and potentially significant damages can encourage companies and individuals to comply with the law and act responsibly.
  5. Compensation: Class actions can result in larger recoveries for individual class members than they would be able to obtain on their own. This is because the costs of litigation are shared among the class members, and the damages awarded can be significant, making it worthwhile for individuals to participate in the lawsuit.

How does a class action lawsuit work?

The Due Process clause of the United States Constitution requires that members of a class receive notice of a class action and be provided an opportunity to opt out of the class action for the judgment in the action to be binding. This notice is usually provided after the court overseeing the class action “certifies” the action as a class action. The standard for such certification differs between federal and state courts but in general requires that:

  • The named plaintiff is adequate to represent the class and has claims that are typical of the rest of the class;
  • The class is sufficiently numerous and ascertainable;
  • Common questions predominate over individual issues, and that; 
  • Aclass action is a superior means to resolve the claims in the lawsuit.

What is the process for prosecuting a class action lawsuit?

The first step in prosecuting a class action lawsuit is to file a “complaint”—a document filed in court that outlines the class claims and the relief sought. The complaint will typically identify the group of people on whose behalf the lawsuit is brought. The lawsuit must be brought by an individual within that group who sues the defendant on behalf of the class.

The Court overseeing a class action has an affirmative duty to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected. This includes the defendant as well as all the class members who will eventually be bound by any judgment in the case.

Most class actions settle before trial. Such settlements must be approved by the court, which has a duty to ensure that the settlement provides fair and adequate compensation to the class. If no settlement is reached, the outcome of the case will be decided by a judge or jury depending on the nature of the asserted claims.