WHAT IS A CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT?
A class action lawsuit is an action where a group of people all has the same or similar injuries, which were caused by the same defective product, device, contamination, treatment, incident or occurrence. The group of people files one action and each member of the group is a class member of the lawsuit. It is logical and efficient to have only one action for injuries stemming from the same source, against the same defendant. If the plaintiffs win the lawsuit, the damages will be divided among them in proportion to the injuries each individual has sustained. However, if the defendant wins the case, the class members (plaintiffs) are barred from filing a new claim, as either another class action or an individual action, against the same defendant for the same injuries.
In most cases, class action lawsuits are made up of a group of people with fairly minor injuries. Once added together, these injuries combine and count up, making the lawsuit more practical for injured parties. It is also more cost effective to litigate, what would be small claims, at one time. The court costs, attorneys fees and any witness fees will be absorbed by the group (or often paid from the winnings, only if the plaintiff’s win), as opposed to being paid by the individual plaintiff. However, if an individual has been severely injured and/or has the resources to pursue a separate claim, a class action lawsuit may not be the most appropriate choice for that individual. Therefore, it is important to speak to an attorney, knowledgeable in class action litigation, about your situation and the facts of your case if you are interested in initiating or joining a class action lawsuit.
Could I be in a Class Action Suit and Not Know It?
Generally, all persons affected by a class action lawsuit should be notified. The court will order the class action representative (often the named plaintiff in the lawsuit) to notify all persons who may be affected by the action’s outcome. In situations where the class is very large, individual notification may not be possible and would be unrealistic to pursue. Depending on the number of possible class action members and the facts of the case, the type of notification must be reasonable. Therefore, notification will often be in the form of a letter, flyer, announced in a magazine, newspaper or television. It may not be possible for every single person to be made aware of the lawsuit, but all reasonable method of notification, specified by the court, should be followed. Consequently, if you are notified of a class option lawsuit that you may be affected by, you will have the right to “opt in” to the lawsuit (join the lawsuit as a class action member) or “opt out” of the lawsuit. Be aware that if the class action has been filed with the court, it may be too late to opt out of the group at the time you are notified and each member of the recognized class will be bound by the court’s outcome.
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