“Things will only improve when the people – all of us – say to authorities, ‘I will hold you responsible,’” said Erin Brockovich. If you haven’t seen the film based on her life in the ‘90s, then you should. Single mother Erin Brockovich managed to organize and successfully win a huge class action lawsuit against an established energy corporation. How did she do this? What led to the filing of such a lawsuit? Well, you’re liable to find out once we go through what a class action lawsuit is and what it entails.
Class action lawsuit
In layman’s terms, a class action lawsuit is when a group of people (a class) files a lawsuit against an entity or several entities because all the people in the group (class members) were harmed or had their rights violated similarly by the entity or entities. It can also be filed by a single class member on behalf of the class. A class action lawsuit is different from a regular lawsuit in that it deals with a group, or class, of plaintiffs rather than an individual plaintiff. The group’s individual cases are combined into one, giving the lawsuit more heft than if the individual members were to file their own cases. The costs for running the lawsuit are first covered by the group’s chosen law firm and then reimbursed when the class action is settled or won in court. Sometimes, a class action lawsuit is the only legal means for a plaintiff to seek justice as it is more economical than filing a regular lawsuit.
Elements of a class action lawsuit
Plaintiffs are those that bring a legal case against a defendant or defendants in a court of law. When it is found that there are numerous possible plaintiffs with similar lawsuits, and the filing of several individual cases is deemed to be impractical, the forming of a class becomes a preferred alternative. Individuals with similar legal complaints can form a class of plaintiffs with one lawsuit.
In a class, there will usually be one or two “lead plaintiffs” that represent all of the people who want to file the lawsuit. Lead plaintiffs run the case with their lawyers and are the ones who appear in court on behalf of the class. They must not have any history of fraud or other forms of criminal dishonesty. The majority of the class are known as “class members.” It must be reiterated that individuals in the class of plaintiffs must have suffered the same injury or violation of rights caused by the defendant’s actions.
After filing their lawsuit, the class that filed the lawsuit must be certified by a judge in order for the lawsuit to be officially approved as a class action lawsuit. No certification, no case. The class must meet the following requirements for certification:
- Numerosity – the class members must be so numerous that it will be impractical for them to file separate lawsuits.
- Commonality – the lead plaintiff or plaintiffs must present “questions of law or fact” that are common among all the cases of the class members (the questions must be based on the same problem or unlawful action)
- Typicality – the lead plaintiff or plaintiffs must have the same legal claims and defenses as all the class members, and any defenses to those claims would be the same or very typical (the claims and defenses of the lead plaintiff/s must be so typical of the class)
- Adequacy of representation – the lead plaintiff or plaintiffs’ ability to justly and adequately represent and protect the interests of the class members (the law firm representing the class will also be scrutinized, especially as regards lawyer compensation)
When the parties in a class action lawsuit decide to have a settlement or come to an agreement, the presiding judge must approve it first. Then, the judge makes sure that the settlement is fair for both parties. If the class wins, awards are recompensed among class members, though not necessarily equally. Recompensing the class members usually follows a distribution plan. Each class member may receive a certain percentage of the total award. With the help of both parties involved in the class action and their attorneys, the judge develops this plan for the class while subtracting their attorneys’ fees and other fees incurred during the litigation. The court regulates this by blocking any settlement offers that unjustly gravitate toward either party’s gain.
Furthermore, class members can make submissions to the court concerning whether they think a settlement proposal is fair and justifiable for them. Class members may decide to opt out of any eventual settlement and pursue their claims individually, even when legally represented in a class. If there is no settlement, the lawsuit proceeds to trial. It becomes up to the court to reach a fair decision and reasonably award damages. The court’s judgment or decision applies to every individual who has opted to join the class and fit within the court’s original definition of a class member (based on the certification), even if they never went to court or participated in the lawsuit.
Types of class action lawsuits
There are many types of class action lawsuits that can be brought on behalf of class members who have all been harmed similarly. These are based on the types of laws alleged to be violated by the defendant. Therefore, interested parties must know the various types of unlawful practices that become subjects of class action lawsuits.
The common types are listed below:
1. Antitrust – allege that the defendant violated antitrust laws (usually by illegally overpricing a product or service)
2. Bank Fraud – allege that a bank has mistreated a group of bank clients in a certain way (interest overcharges, mismanagement of trusts, and others)
3. Consumer Protection – filed when any federal and state consumer protection laws ( fees and bills for communication services, credit records, debt collection, telemarketing, and others) have been violated by a defendant
4. Employment – filed when a big company has systematically violated one or more employment laws (regarding discrimination, overtime, benefits, etc.) against all or any of their employees
5. Environmental – allege that a large class was all harmed because of exposure to an environmental hazard introduced or made by the defendant
6. Finance – filed on behalf of a group of investors who have suffered losses because of a broker or brokerage firm’s unlawful actions (investment fraud or other practices)
7. Medical or Pharmaceutical – allege that harm (debilitating side effects, serious injury, death) was done by defectively designed or manufactured medical devices and/or drugs
8. Product Liability – allege that a product or product line is defectively designed or manufactured, and the products involved injure or harm a large number of people
Seeking justice as a collective will put you on the path to filing a class-action lawsuit. Filing one can enable the legal process to proceed more swiftly and economically, particularly in cases pursued against large corporations. As class actions are less costly, they can provide the only means for some individuals to pursue matters legally. Without class-action lawsuits, it would have been impossible for the people of Hinkley to hold Pacific Gas & Electric accountable for poisoning groundwater with chromium 6. A wide range of potential class-action lawsuits exists, and new reasons for filing them continue to be discovered.
Deinah Storm used to work in the corporate world as a marketing affiliate. She quit her job to pursue her passion for writing, but to this day, Deinah is committed to educating consumers about the different marketing scams and how to avoid them.