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Commonly Asked Class Action Questions

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  1. What is a class action?
  2. What types of class actions may be filed?
  3. Who pays the lawyers in a class action lawsuit?
  4. Can I be bound by a settlement or judgment of a class action?
  5. How do I join a class action?
  6. How do you know if you've got the making of a class action lawsuit?
  7. 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 unconstitutional behavior.

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 ("adequacy").

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.