Many people are familiar with what a lawsuit is: a dispute or claim that is filed in court and either settled or brought before a judge for a formal judgment. People file lawsuits against individuals, companies, corporations, or other entities they believe have caused them injury—whether physical, emotional, or financial. But what is a class action lawsuit, and why would someone want to file one?
When standard lawsuits are filed, they are either litigated in court or settled out of court on behalf of a certain individual, or a limited number of individuals. Everyone involved in the suit is named as a plaintiff—meaning, the person or people bringing the suit against the defendant.
In a class action lawsuit, there is an entire group, or class, of people who all have similar claims and therefore similar interests in seeking justice. When there are many people—sometimes hundreds or even thousands of people—with similar claims, that is simply too many for every single individual to be named as a plaintiff in the suit.
Plus, there is strength in numbers. Bringing so many claims together in one lawsuit carries more weight than each individual claim might on its own. Furthermore, if individual damages are likely too small to merit the cost of litigating an individual case, a class action may be the only cost-effective way to achieve redress for a defendant’s misconduct. In the event of a judgment or settlement on a class basis, each class member receives his or her share of the large “class action pie.”
Now that we have covered the basics, let’s go into more detail about when and how a person might have grounds to bring a class action lawsuit.
When to File a Class Action Lawsuit
When a small group of people bands together to act as lead plaintiffs, suing the defendant on behalf of an entire group that has been wronged, the type of suit they have filed is called a class action lawsuit. Once a class action lawsuit is certified by the court as a class action, any class member may opt out of the legal proceedings upon receiving notice that they have been included as part of the class action. If they don’t opt out and the suit succeeds in securing compensation, class members will be eligible to receive their share of the damages along with those directly named in the suit. Lead plaintiffs may be eligible for additional compensation in the form of a “service award.” Such awards are at the discretion of the court and are made in recognition of the efforts made by lead plaintiffs to secure compensation for the entire class.
Many class action suits involve defective products, such as motor vehicles with malfunctioning parts or pharmaceutical drugs that caused medical complications; many others relate to claims of fraud, such as consumer or securities fraud. Employment claims and privacy breach claims are also common in class action suits. Employees of a company might file a class action lawsuit together against their employer for discrimination or unpaid wages; clients of a bank or an insurance company might file a class action suit over deceptive or unfair fees or charges; or users of a certain website might file a class action suit over a data breach that compromised their privacy.
How to File a Class Action Lawsuit
Due to their complexity and unique features, class action lawsuits require specialized lawyers with experience handling these types of claims. In fact, when a class action lawsuit is certified as such, the court must review proposed class counsel’s qualifications to ensure the class is well-represented. When there is a large group of people who have all been wronged by the same party, a class action lawsuit may be the best course of action for seeking justice for everyone. With that in mind, here is how to file a class action lawsuit:
- The very first step in filing a class action lawsuit is consulting with qualified attorneys who can determine whether the case is appropriate for a class action. As mentioned above, class actions are uniquely complex cases that require competent and specialized lawyers.
- In most cases, the defendant will oppose class action certification asserting that the case is inappropriate to go forward on a class basis. Class certification is usually among the most hard fought issues in class action cases.
- If the judge decides that the case is appropriate for class action certification, he or she will issue an order certifying the class action suit that includes a so-called “class definition” (i.e., defining who is or is not a class member) and naming the lead plaintiff(s) and their attorneys as class representatives and class counsel. Typically, there must be at least 40 or so class members to justify a class action lawsuit. With the concentration of many market services (e.g., banking or insurance), this threshold is often easily met.
- Once the lawsuit has been certified as a class action by the judge, all other potential plaintiffs (those unnamed in the suit) are notified, so they can choose whether to opt out of the class. Sometimes, contacting every potential plaintiff is not possible or plausible, such as when there are so many potential class members that it would be impossible to gather all of their email addresses or other contact information to notify them of the suit. In these instances, the suit might be publicized online, on television, or in newspapers. In this way, the attorneys will have done their due diligence in making as many potential plaintiffs as possible aware of the legal proceedings.
Many class action lawsuits will eventually resolve through a class settlement. Unlike regular settlements, class settlements must be approved by the court as fair and adequate, which serves as an additional layer of protection of the interests of class members. The court must also approve the attorney’s fees for class counsel.
It is important to keep in mind that class action suits can be very complicated and tricky, and certain types of class action suits have been shown to have a relatively low rate of success for the plaintiffs. Wealthy corporations and other similar entities tend to have near-unlimited financial and legal resources. All of these factors make it paramount for class action lawsuit plaintiffs to hire an experienced, capable, and well-resourced attorney or legal team that can handle the many unique and complex requirements involved with carrying a class action lawsuit to a desirable conclusion, thereby bringing justice for the plaintiffs.
Requirements for a Class Action Lawsuit
There are certain requirements that must be met—or conditions that the lead plaintiffs and their legal team must prove about their case—in order for a court to certify a class for a class action suit. Those requirements for class action lawsuit include the following:
- Numerosity – There must be enough potential plaintiffs, usually at least 40, that adding all of them by name to the lawsuit would not be practical.
- Commonality – There must be laws and facts in place that apply (or are common) to every member of the class and their individual claims.
- Typicality – The lead plaintiffs, meaning those who are named in the lawsuit, must have claims that are typical of the claims of everyone else in the class not named in the suit.
- Adequacy – The lead plaintiffs and their attorneys must be able to represent the other class members’ interests both fairly and adequately.
All of the above requirements must be met for a class to be certified by a judge. In addition, at least one of the following must also be met:
- If individual class members were to pursue justice separately rather than as a class, there would be a risk of inconsistent judgments or unfair outcomes for some of the plaintiffs.
- The defendant has acted (or refused to act) on grounds that generally apply to the whole class.
- The laws and facts in place that are common to the class members’ individual claims predominate over any single claim, making a class action a better choice than multiple individual lawsuits.
Do You Have Grounds for a Lawsuit Against an Employer?
Before filing a class action lawsuit against your employer, you must first determine whether you have grounds for a lawsuit against the employer in the first place. Consultation with qualified attorneys is particularly important at this stage. This is especially true if your suit will address discrimination or another claim involving civil rights, since any class action suit requires a lot of time, work, and effort on the part of the plaintiffs, as well as their attorneys.
If you have ample evidence that your employer discriminated against a large number of employees or applicants for employment on the basis of age, sex, race, ethnicity, disability, or any other factor, that your employer failed to pay workers fair wages, or that your employer harmed a large group of employees in some other way, you may have grounds for a class action lawsuit.
Slack Davis Sanger Can Represent You In a Class Action Lawsuit
If you have purchased a defective or fraudulently marketed product or service, have been the victim of a data breach, or suffered from mistreatment from your employer, or some other factor that has also harmed many others in the same way, you may have grounds for a class action lawsuit—and the legal team at Slack Davis Sanger can help. Our team serves as passionate and experienced advocates for clients, determined to hold corporations accountable. Our skilled litigators can help you through all steps in the process, whether it’s advising you during the discovery phase or helping you understand what happens when a case goes to trial. We have extensive experience seeking proper compensation for plaintiffs in class action suits, and we fight tirelessly on our clients’ behalf for justice.
The firm handles cases involving catastrophic personal injuries and deaths. Our work spans three decades of handling airplane and helicopter crashes, truck and car accidents, oilfield and construction accidents, and other devastating accidents. We try lawsuits throughout the country in both federal and state courts and have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients. To date, we have handled or tried cases in 47 states, read more about our attorneys and firm.