When a group of people suffer the same or similar injuries due to the same product, or actions of another party, it is possible to bring a class action lawsuit. These cases can arise from defective products such as medical devices, motor vehicles and other consumer products as well as different types of conduct, including consumer fraud or unlawful labor, employment, and business practices. In short, class action lawsuits are best handled by attorneys who are trained and skilled in handling this type of complex litigation.

Class Action Lawsuits 101

Class action lawsuits are brought when a number of people have suffered the same or similar injuries or losses. In many cases, the individual injuries or losses may be relatively minor, which may not warrant one person taking legal action. Moreover, if the number of injured parties is high, it may not be practical for them to file individual lawsuits. The combined value of their claims add up, however, and participants in a class action can recover significant damages as a group.

If the court recognizes the class and allows the case to proceed, the group files a lawsuit, led by a named or lead plaintiff, and all aspects of the litigation such as the attorneys, evidence and witnesses are consolidated. Examples of class action lawsuits include:

  • Consumers who were harmed by the same defective product
  • Patients who suffered injurious side effects from prescription medication
  • A group of employees who were subjected to harassment or discrimination
  • Investors who were the target of securities fraud

In sum, class action cases require extensive preparation, far more than an individual lawsuit and hinge on gathering sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant’s product or conduct harmed the plaintiffs. A judge will render a decision regarding the entire group. If the class prevails, the court finds the defendant liable for the plaintiffs’ injuries, and the monetary award is divided among the members of the class.

Benefits of Class Actions

The main benefit of a class action lawsuit is that it combines and disposes numerous claims that may not be practical to litigate individually. Not only is this a more efficient process, aggregating small claims into class action can also reduce the cost of litigation. Ultimately, a class action can ensure that all the injured plaintiffs obtain some compensation, even if the amount does not cover all of the damages. If individual claims were pursued, on the other hand, plaintiffs would be paid on a “first come, first serve” basis.

Judgments and Settlements

In a class action lawsuit, the court’s final judgment applies to every member of the class, all of whom are bound by the decision, regardless of whether they actually participate in the proceeding. If the plaintiffs win, the participants are paid under a “plan of distribution” which is developed by the judge in conjunction with the parties and their respective attorneys.

The members of the class may either receive a percentage of the total award fund or a specific dollar amount. In large class action cases, the amount awarded to each class member may be tailored to the value of his or her claim. It is important to note that attorneys’ fees and litigation costs will be deducted from the final judgment amount. Finally, if the parties agree to settle the lawsuit, the presiding judge must approve the settlement to ensure that it is fair to all parties.

Although class action lawsuits are more intricate and time consuming than other civil lawsuits, a group of people who have suffered the same injuries or losses may obtain compensation that they would otherwise not be able to recover. If you were injured by a product or person and believe others are in a similar situation, you should engage the services of an attorney who has experience litigating and managing complex class action cases.