A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit with many plaintiffs.
When a case is a class action case, there are a lot of people who claim they’ve been wronged by the defendant.
The plaintiffs have similar complaints.
The courts allow all of the plaintiffs to join together in order to litigate their issues together.
Why Do Class Action Cases Exist?
Courts allow litigants to join together and bring their cases as one class action in order to conserve resources.
Rather than each plaintiff needing to find their own attorney to bring an action, the plaintiffs can all work with one attorney or a team of attorneys that knows the issues on everyone’s behalf.
With a class action case, separate lawyers for each plaintiff don’t have to spend time getting up to speed.
They don’t have to duplicate the work that other lawyers have already done on similar issues.
Allowing all of the plaintiffs to work with one legal team saves the plaintiffs time and effort.
Grouping cases into a class action can also help defendants.
A defendant has one set of lawsuits to respond to rather than hundreds or even thousands of cases scattered throughout the country at different times.
They can conserve resources by needing to produce one set of discovery and appear for one set of court dates.
A defendant can also consider all of the cases at once when they make decisions about extending or accepting a settlement offer.
Class Action Law in the United States
Both federal and state courts have rules for how class action cases work.
These rules are typically found in the court’s Rules of Civil Procedure.
In federal courts, the rules are in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. States have similar rules.
The rules are the requirements that all judges must follow when they decide to approve a class action case.
A Class Action Is by Permission of the Court
The court has the choice of whether to certify a class action.
All of the required conditions must be present for the court to even consider the certification.
The court must consider whether certifying a class is convenient for the administration of justice.
Even if all the conditions are present, the rules say only that the court “may” certify a class.
The court can look at the entire circumstances and determine what they believe is fair to everyone and beneficial to the administration of justice.
Many Plaintiffs Required
For a case to become a class action case, there must be a lot of plaintiffs.
Most class action cases have several dozen plaintiffs or more.
There must be so many plaintiffs with similar claims that it’s more practical to join all the cases together to resolve them.
The Plaintiffs Must Have Common Issues
To be a good case for a class action, the plaintiffs must have issues in common.
For example, if the plaintiffs are all individuals who have similar complications after taking a drug, they might be an appropriate group for a class action.
Their circumstances might be a little bit different, but the underlying issues are similar.
In another case, a number of plaintiffs have problems with a vehicle.
Some of the plaintiffs have brake failure.
Others have a problem with a door that can increase the severity of a vehicle crash.
These plaintiffs aren’t a good case to join in a class action.
Their issues are too different for one adjudication to resolve the issues of the different groups.
The Lead Plaintiff Must Have a Typical Case
Every class action has a lead plaintiff called a class representative.
They make decisions about settling the case.
To be a class action, the plaintiff that’s going to be the lead plaintiff must have a typical case.
If they’re not a typical plaintiff, adjudicating their issues won’t help resolve things for the rest of the class members.
A Class Action Must Be Adequate to Meet the Needs of the Class Members
A case isn’t a good candidate for class certification unless it can adequately represent the interests of all of the plaintiffs.
Basically, the circumstances must be fair to everyone involved.
The courts also consider whether certifying the class is helpful for conveniently administering justice.
Class Members Can Opt-Out
Class members usually have the choice to decline to participate in the class.
Class representatives need to take steps to notify potential litigants of the case.
Then, the potential plaintiffs can choose to participate in the class or choose to preserve their right to bring a case on their own.
There’s usually a time limit to opt-out.
If a plaintiff misses the time limit, they can lose their right to bring a claim on their own.
One of the things to be aware of when you work on class action cases is that jurisdiction is important.
When there are multiple plaintiffs spread over a wide geographic area, it can be a bit tricky to know where to bring the case.
The courts have guidelines for knowing where to bring a claim.
Are There Drawbacks to Class Action Cases?
Class action lawsuits have their critics.
If you’ve ever sent in the notification postcard or signed up online to be part of a class action lawsuit, you know that the compensation you ultimately receive can often seem like so little compared to your damages.
In one class action case, litigants received a $2.25 discount on a future purchase.
In addition, when plaintiffs are grouped together, the question arises of how to compensate each plaintiff for their unique damages.
The court must approve a settlement that includes a plan for splitting up the funds.
When many plaintiffs each have a different experience and damages, it can be difficult to determine how to appropriately apportion settlement funds among class members.
Some say that not enough of the settlement actually gets distributed to the litigants.
After attorneys deduct litigation fees and the lead plaintiffs receive an incentive payment, some say that not enough goes to the litigants. F
or attorneys who practice class action law, making sure that class members receive a fair settlement for their losses is an important consideration.
Who Practices Class Action Law?
Class action cases are civil cases.
More specifically, class action cases are personal injury cases.
Attorneys who focus on class action cases practice tort law.
Most attorneys don’t focus on only class action law.
If an attorney handles class action cases, they likely take class action cases as part of a larger civil litigation practice.
Because class action cases often require significant resources, most class action cases go to big law firms.
These firms have the staff and the resources to handle large amounts of discovery and client outreach.
Even though small firms handle class action cases occasionally, it’s more common for them to partner with larger groups of attorneys in order to complete the work.
Attorneys who defend class action lawsuits might work for large law firms, or they might serve as in-house counsel for a corporation.
Who Should Become a Class Action Lawyer?
Class action law is a good choice for lawyers who want to take on big cases.
Class action cases can impact millions of people throughout the entire country.
For lawyers who want to take on this challenge, practicing class action law can be a rewarding choice.
Cases often involve large amounts of information.
Big cases come with lots of paperwork.
Successful class action lawyers have to be organized.
Because class action cases often require a large number of legal professionals working on their cases, class action attorneys need people skills.
They must know how to work with other attorneys and manage assistants.
Attorneys also have to have a thorough working knowledge of the rules of civil procedure that apply to the case.
Pleadings, motions, and briefs often have very detailed requirements.
Class action attorneys have to know what the requirements are and how to use the rules of civil procedure to their advantage to effectively advocate for their clients.
Why Become a Class Action Lawyer
If you’re interested in handling large, high-profile cases, class action law might be a good fit.
For lawyers who can manage complex litigation and master the ins and outs of civil procedure, class action law is a viable option.
Lawyers in the field work on high-stakes cases that are technically and legally complex while they advocate for large groups of people or defend their clients.