You may have heard about class action lawsuits in the news or in an advertisement on TV or the radio. You may have even received something in the mail requesting your participation in a particular complaint. Class action lawsuits are different than most personal injury or civil cases involving negligence, and an individual’s involvement in a class action case can vary depending on the legal matter.
So, what is a class action lawsuit? If you are asked to participate in a class action, what do you need to know?
1. Class Action Lawsuits
First, it is important to what a class action lawsuit is. Class actions are lawsuits filed by an individual or small group of people who act on behalf of a larger group known as the “class.” According to Cornell Law School, this type of procedure gives the courts the ability “to manage lawsuits that would otherwise be unmanageable” by allowing a small number of representatives to pursue a claim on behalf of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
2. Class Action Requirements
According to federal law, the following criteria must be met in order for a class action lawsuit to proceed:
- The “class” must be so large that bringing all members together is impracticable.
- There are questions of law or fact common to the class.
- The claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class.
- The representative parties must agree to fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
3. Your Rights as a Member of a Class Action
In most cases, people who choose to participate as class members in a class action lawsuit give up their legal rights to pursue legal action on their own. In other words, if you join a class action and do not agree with (or are not happy with) the outcome of the case, you might not be allowed to pursue a claim on your own.
4. Class Action Results
The outcome of any case is never guaranteed, and past results of similar class action lawsuits do not necessarily mean that the outcome of future litigation will be the same. Class action settlements may total in the millions of dollars; however, an individual’s share may not be worth anywhere near that total, especially if thousands of people belong to the class.
5. How Do I Get Involved in a Class Action Lawsuit?
Potential class members are often notified through the mail or other correspondence. Information about the class action is usually outlined briefly, while additional information and details about the case may be sought through a website link or contact telephone number. Sometimes people are automatically placed in a class action lawsuit, and if you do not want to participate, you must opt-out on your own.
In some cases, you may not even know if you are a part of a class action lawsuit. If this happens and you do not realize it until after the case is filed, you may not be able to opt-out or file a separate lawsuit on your own. You might not even realize it until you receive your portion of the settlement in the mail.