Often, before a class action lawsuit is actually filed, an attorney may conduct what's called an "investigation". Basically, there may have been a number of reports or complaints about a product, drug or service causing injury or harm in some way, and the attorney is reviewing those reports and complaints to determine whether there might be cause for some form of legal action.
An investigation posted on BigClassAction.com does not mean the company mentioned has done anything illegal—it only means that there is an investigation being conducted.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action lawsuit is an action in which a large group of people files a complaint against the defendant for similar grievances. In this form of legal action, the lawsuit is filed on behalf of everyone in the class, that class being a group of people who share similar circumstances, injuries and damages.
To be part of a class action, the plaintiff must show that his experience with the defendant is similar to that of other people in the class. Plaintiffs must also show that the evidence against the defendants is similar for everyone in the class and that individual lawsuits against the company would not be an efficient use of the court's time, nor would it be cost-effective. Finally, the individual compensation from the class action must be small enough that it is not worth the time or money to hire an individual attorney.
What Types of Class Action Lawsuits are there?
A class action lawsuit involves a situation where a large group of people is injured or harmed in some way by the same conduct. Generally, class action lawsuits are grouped into four main types:
- Consumer Class Action Lawsuits
Consumer class action lawsuits are generally brought when consumers complain about being injured by a company's illegal practices. Examples might include illegal charges on bills, illegal late payment fees, or failure to comply with consumer protection laws. False advertising claims would also be considered a consumer class action as would unfair, illegal, or deceptive business practices.
Typically, consumers first complain to a company's customer service department about such practices. However, complaining to the company does not always result in any corrective action on the company's part. At that point, a complaint may be submitted to a class action attorney.
- Securities Class Action Lawsuits
Securities class action lawsuits are typically brought on behalf of a group of investors who have been injured as a result of a company's improper conduct, such as misstating earnings—sometimes referred to as "materially false and misleading statements", concealing or misrepresenting risks, or otherwise engaging in activity detrimental to the company and, therefore, its stakeholders.
- Product Liability Class Action Lawsuits
Product liability class action lawsuits usually happen when a defective product, such as a running shoe alleged to cause foot injury, or a car whose defect causes unintended acceleration leading to car accident injuries. In product liability class action lawsuits, many people are similarly harmed by the product.
- Employment Class Action Lawsuits
Employment class action lawsuits are typically brought on behalf of employees of a large company for claims ranging from unpaid overtime and employee misclassification to systemic workplace age, race or sexual discrimination.
In a class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs are grouped together in one lawsuit against the defendant. In this form of legal action, the lawsuit is filed on behalf of everyone in the class, that class being a group of people who share similar circumstances, injuries and damages. To be part of a class action, the plaintiff must show that his experience with the defendant is similar to that of other people in the class. Plaintiffs must also show that the evidence against the defendants is similar for everyone in the class and that individual lawsuits against the company would not be an efficient use of the court's time, nor would it be cost-effective.
In a mass tort, a defendant is sued by a large group of people, but those people actually retain their individual lawsuit rather than becoming part of a "class". An attorney or group of attorneys can represent multiple injured parties in their individual cases and plaintiff's lawyers can share information. Cases that are similar can then be argued together.
Defective drug lawsuits are often mass torts because plaintiffs may have suffered different damages from the same drug—for example a person taking a drug may have suffered a fatal heart attack while another suffered a minor stroke—and based on their different injuries, their awards would likely be different. Large-scale accidents, such as plane crashes are also argued as mass torts.
The key difference between a class action lawsuit and a mass tort is the extent to which the plaintiffs' injuries are the same. In a class action, plaintiffs experience similar harm or injury; in a mass tort, the injuries can differ from plaintiff to plaintiff.
Can I use my own Lawyer in a Class Action Lawsuit?
Yes—if you have opted out of the class (or not opted into the class if a formal opt-in notice needed to be submitted). If you join the class—or do not opt out of it—then you will be represented as part of the class and lose the option to file an individual lawsuit against the defendant.
In a well-publicized case over 2003-2009 Honda Civic Hybrid MPG ratings, a class member opted out of the class action lawsuit and took her complaint, on her own, to small claims court.
What does it cost to bring a Class Action Lawsuit?
It does not cost the individual(s) bringing the class action any money to bring the lawsuit because class action lawsuits are brought by attorneys who work on a contingent fee basis. With a contingent fee basis (sometimes referred to as "working on contingency"), the attorneys do not get paid unless the lawsuit is successful. The attorneys advance the money and manpower needed to bring the class action lawsuit on behalf of the representative and Class. If the class action lawsuit is successful, the attorneys then apply to the court for an award of their fees and reimbursement of expenses. It is up to the court to determine the fees awarded to the attorneys, and the attorneys alone risk the possibility of their not getting paid should the class action lawsuit not be successful.
What is a Class Representative?
Only one individual—a Class Representative—is required to bring a Class Action. A Class Representative is typically an individual or group that believes that it has been wronged, realizes that others are also being harmed or injured similarly, wants the offending practice to end, and wants to be compensated along with the other members of the Class. A Class Representative will be one of the named or lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
How do I start a Class Action Lawsuit?
If you feel you—or a group—have been wronged and that there are others who are also being harmed in the same manner and you'd like to try to pursue a class action, your first step would be to meet with a class action attorney and present your complaint along with any supporting documentation. The lawyer would then examine the complaint to determine the best course of action based on an evaluation of the merits of the case.
If the lawyer determines to go forward and bring a class action lawsuit, the individual or group would act as the Class Representative and the lawyer would typically work on a contingency basis. The lawyer would then bring the lawsuit in the person’s, or Class Representative’s, name, both individually, and on behalf of a defined Class of similarly situated individuals.
How do I Become a Lead Plaintiff in a Class Action Lawsuit?
The lead plaintiff(s) acts as a representative of the Class and is appointed by the court. To be named lead plaintiff, you must apply within 60 days after a notice of the first class action is published.
What is expected of a Lead Plaintiff or Class Representative?
That person then communicates with lawyers about the case and may be required to offer testimony about how he or she was harmed by the defendant's actions. The lead plaintiff may also be required to make decisions that affect the outcome of the case.
The lead plaintiff(s) do not need to pay any money to bring the lawsuit, but may have to provide paperwork and background information relating to the case. Over the course of the class action—which can take from two to five years—the lead plaintiff(s) will be called upon to periodically assist in the lawsuit. If the lawsuit is successful, the lead plaintiff(s) generally receive additional compensation (with court approval) for their time and contribution.
Is my Complaint too small (financially) for a Class Action Lawsuit?
It depends on how many other people were harmed by the same company. For example, if you lost $100 to improper billing by a cell phone company, that is probably too small an amount for you to go to court over. If, however, 1,000 people suffered the same damages, that works out to $1,000,000, which could make a class action lawsuit worthwhile.
Does my Complaint affect enough people in a similar manner to make a Class Action Lawsuit worthwhile?
In many cases, it's difficult to know this until people contact lawyers to discuss their legal options. With some drugs and medical devices, lawyers may have a good idea from the outset of how many people are affected by a defective device. They cannot, however, predict how many people are interested in joining a lawsuit. If you have a complaint against a company, your best bet is to discuss your options with a lawyer.
I don't understand my "Notice of Proposed Settlement"—what am I supposed to do with it? Where do I go for help?
Your class action "Notice of Proposed Settlement" will list a Claims Administrator—and usually a toll-free phone number or website address where you can find information about the class action lawsuit and the terms of the proposed settlement. It's best to contact the Claims Administrator for the class action lawsuit with any questions about the settlement or how to submit a claim for the settlement.
I Submitted a Claim for a Class Action Settlement, but haven't heard anything since. Why is it Taking so Long? I thought I'd have a check in the mail by now.
Because a class action lawsuit typically involves hundreds or thousands of claimants, it can take several months for a class action settlement fund to be dispersed to claimants. Typically, Claims Administrators will provide updates regarding the status of settlement payments either on their website, or via a toll-free phone number.
I see a Lead Attorney listed on the case—is that who my Settlement Claim Form goes to?
No. Your claim form will go to the Claims Administrator who has been contracted to handle all claims for the class action settlement.
What is the difference between an Opt-In and an Opt-Out Class Action Lawsuit?
In an opt-in lawsuit, you must notify the courts of your desire to be included in the class of people covered by a class action lawsuit. In an opt-out lawsuit, you are automatically included in the class, regardless of whether or not you want to be. In an opt-out lawsuit, if you want to be excluded from the class, you must make your wishes known to the courts and formally "opt out". Instructions to opt out of a class action lawsuit are typically found on the Class Action Notice.
What is the Class Action Lawsuit Process? What are the Steps in a Class Action Lawsuit?
While there may be some differences depending on the specifics of each class action, in general, the following are steps in the class action process:
- Meet with Class Action Lawyer. Class Representative(s) meet with a class action attorney to review the complaint and any supporting documentation. The lawyer determines whether the complaint merits moving ahead to formally file a complaint.
- Lawyer Files Complaint. Should the lawyer feel the complaint warrants initiating a case, he files the complaint on behalf of the Class Representative(s).
- Defendant Response. The defendant responds to the complaint. At this point the defendant may enter a motion to dismiss.
- Discovery. (This is sometimes referred to as "interrogatories".) Both the defense and plaintiff attorneys disclose evidence to each other in support of their respective cases.
- Request to Certify. The plaintiff files a motion to have the case certified as a class action by the court.
- Opposition to Certification. The defendant files opposing briefs to the plaintiff's motion seeking class certification.
- Class Action Certified. The judge either certifies or denies the class action. If the case is certified, it moves forward as a class action lawsuit; if not, the case may still continue as an individual lawsuit.
- Class Action Notification. Prospective members of the class (i.e., prospective claimants) must now be notified of the class action lawsuit. Notice is often sent by mail, though may be sent via email, as well as being publicized in newspapers or online. If the class action is "opt in", the prospective claimant must formally opt to participate in the case or elect to file their own lawsuit separately.
- Class Action Trial. The certified class action lawsuit then moves to trial. (Most class action lawsuits, however, are typically settled and do not go to trial because at this point, both the plaintiff's and defendant's attorneys would have already presented the information supporting their cases earlier on in the process—during the "discovery" phase (see #4 above). That means the arguments that would be presented at a trial have basically already been heard and each side knows where they stand).
- Appeal. After the class action lawsuit trial, the parties have the right to file appeals by which a higher court is asked to review the case to make sure the law was properly applied by the trial court.
- Settlement and Fairness Hearings. If a class action lawsuit settles, the court will hold fairness hearings aimed at ensuring the terms of the settlement are fair to all class members. There are usually two fairness hearings—the first is the "Preliminary Approval" hearing. A Notice of Proposed Settlement is sent out to class members after the initial fairness hearing.
If the settlement is found to be fair, then the second hearing—the "Final Fairness Hearing"—occurs. The Final Fairness Hearing is when class members can attend and voice their opinion about the settlement.
- Settlement Claim Submission. A deadline is set for class members to submit claims with any required supporting documentation. Settlement claim forms are submitted to a Claims Administrator for processing—not to the lawyers involved in the case.
- Settlement Pay Out. Class members are sent their portion of the settlement.