Commonly Asked Class Action Questions
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- What is a class action?
- What types of class actions may be filed?
- Who pays the lawyers in a class action lawsuit?
- Can I be bound by a settlement or judgment of a class action?
- How do I join a class action?
- How do you know if you've got the making of a class action lawsuit?
- If I have a claim, should I file my own lawsuit?
What is a class action?
A class action lawsuit is one where several class representatives sue on
behalf of a larger group of people. Often, these are "plaintiff class
actions," because it is a class of plaintiffs filing the lawsuit.
There are, however, rare exceptions known as "defendant class actions,"
where a group of defendants is being sued. Class action lawsuits can be
extremely helpful for those who have suffered harm but whose individual
damage just does not justify the expense of a lawsuit. In such instances,
the wrongdoer may get away with their wrongful actions simply because
the victims do not want to take on the cost of a lawsuit. However, through
a class action, enough wronged people can work together with combined
damages that justify the cost.
What types of class actions may be filed?
In most cases, class actions are filed to recover money. However, they
may also be filed to resolve disputes over limited funds where available
money does not adequately compensate all class members. Furthermore, some
declaratory judgment class actions may be filed that ask the court for
a decision regarding the rights and decisions of the party. In other cases,
an injunctive relief class action may be filed to ask the court to stop
a party from doing something. For example, a case against police to stop
Who pays the lawyers in a class action lawsuit?
This will depend on the type of class action. In cases where the class
action is being filed to recover money damages, the lawyers will typically
be paid out of the common fund, which is the money recovered. In these
cases, it will be a percentage of the total money recovered. This is usually
25% of the total. If the class action involved declaratory judgment or
injunctive relief, the lawyer will either be paid by the person who hired
them or by the parties being sued. In all cases, the attorney fees are
subject to court review and approval.
Can I be bound by a settlement or judgment of a class action?
In most cases, yes. Should the court determine that the legal proceedings
were fair, all class members who were "absent" will be bound
by the judgment or settlement. However, it is important to note that if
the lawsuit is filed primarily to recover money, all absent class members
are legally entitled to receive notice with the option to opt out of the
lawsuit and bring a claim individually. In this case, they would not be
bound. Should the class action be for declaratory or injunctive relief,
absent class members are not legally required to receive notice. In these
cases, they may not be allowed by the court to opt out of the proceedings.
How do I join a class action?
Before a court certifies a class action, it must be proven that there are
too many class members for them to all be named as parties in the lawsuit.
This falls under the "numerosity" requirement. Therefore, in
class action lawsuits, class members do not "join in," but rather
participate simply by not opting out of the litigation. It is very rare
for a class action to be filed as an "opt in" class action.
Should this occur, a class form or request to join will be required. In
most costs, the notice sent to all class members will include information
regarding participation and whether they need to take additional action.
If you as a class member decide that you would like to participate in
the class action as a named party, you will need to hire a lawyer to "intervene."
How do you know if you've got the makings of a class action lawsuit?
There are several things to consider when determining whether you have
a class action lawsuit. First, there must be a significant number of people
who will be members of a class ("numerosity"). In fact, there
must be so many that it would be impractical for them to bring their own
claims. Second, there must be common facts or legal questions between
the class members ("commonality"). Third, the claims of the
class representatives must be typical of those of the proposed class members,
but not necessarily identical ("typicality"). Finally, the class
representatives must fairly and properly represent the class' interests
If I have a claim, should I file my own lawsuit?
The answer for this will depend entirely on the specifics of your case
and circumstances. Often, class action lawsuits will seek compensation
for a large group of people, but the actual amount of individual damages
may be small, making it impractical to take on costly litigation. In other
cases, you may have substantial damages and a serious claim, in which
case you should talk to a lawyer.