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Canadians Becoming Class-Action Friendly

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Ottawa, ONLawyer Jeff Orenstein is kind of a legal pioneer in Canadian legal circles. He first got involved with class-action law 11 years ago in 2005 while working with another law firm. Orenstein then decided to set up shop for himself and in 2010, he opened the Consumer Law Group headquartered in Ottawa.

He hasn’t looked back. There are now seven lawyers including Orenstein on the company masthead.

Orenstein’s firm was front and center in a class action that resulted in a $460 million settlement for victims, families and entities that suffered damages as a result of a massive train derailment in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic that killed 47 people and caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage on July 6, 2013.

“Yes, by Canadian standards this was a very big case,” says Orenstein.

“American class actions, of course, still pave the way,” says Orenstein. “Probably just because there are more people there, and the cases are just bigger.”

There are still very few Canadian lawyers with practices that devote most of their time to class actions; although, as Orenstein says, there are definitely more than there were a few years ago.

“You have some lawyers that dabble in class actions,” he says, “but they find out quickly that these cases can take years. They file one case and they are often gone.”

“You need to have the ‘staying power’ to do it,” says Orenstein.
“You’ve got to be able to survive for at least two years with no income. On the Lac-Mégantic file, the disbursements were close to $1 million. The cost of the expert witnesses, printing costs, travel time - forget the lawyers’ time - it’s just money we had to pay out.”

As for Canadians who once used to be a little unsure about class actions and their purpose. All that is changing and changing fast says Orenstein.

“I don’t think that people in Canada think that class-action cases are petty. I really don’t,” says Orenstein. “I have got people calling me every day ready to start a class action. I think there was a time when Canadians thought that, but I think those days are gone.”

“What’s the quote?” says Orenstein. “It is not a question of whether you are going to have one class action or thousands of individual actions. It’s a question of whether you are going to have a class action or no action because only a lunatic would sue for $10.”

As for Orenstein himself. He is a true believer. “Yes, I believe that class actions are definitely a way for people to get justice.”

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