In essence, a class action lawsuit is a legal action brought by one or more plaintiffs on behalf of a group of other plaintiffs who share a common grievance against a person, company, or other type of organization.
Originating in seventeenth century England's equity courts, the modern class action can be traced back to the "bill of peace", and has developed as a way to manage complex, multiparty litigation.
One advantage of a class action is that individual parties who could otherwise not afford the legal bills involved in seeking redress for a grievance can participate as plaintiffs. The reason for this is that while the low award potential of an individual case may preclude an lawyer from taking on such a case, attorneys who take on class actions are usually willing to do so on a contingency fee only basis, which means that they only get paid if the suit is successful.
But class actions serve other purposes as well. For one, class action outcomes may prevent transgressions similar to those that instigated the lawsuits. They are also used frequently in antitrust cases, mass tort cases such as the Agent Orange, Dalkon Shield and asbestos cases, and to combat price fixing, consumer fraud, and other commercial abuses. Among the most common types of class actions involve lawsuits against companies who abuse their employees, companies whose products injure a large number of people, or when discrimination of a protected class has taken place.
Additionally, class action suits can form the basis for sweeping legal changes in state and federal laws. As such, they serve as a vehicle for economic and social reform. Class actions, for instance, were used in landmark civil rights cases and are used to promote consumer protection.
Class actions can be filed at the federal or state level, although recent federal legislation has greatly reduced the viability of state class action litigation. If a federal class action involves multiple jurisdictions, multi-district litigation may be enacted to handle the differences in each jurisdiction's legal proceedings. Class actions brought at the state level can often be joined by out-of-state plaintiffs, but tend to proceed according to the civil laws of the state in which the suit was filed.
Class actions usually require that negotiations, award offers and counter-offers be widely publicized or made available to all plaintiffs. Award amounts tend to be divided equally among the participating members.
In most cases, an individual plaintiff may opt out of the class action provided that proper notification is given within a specified amount of time. Such a plaintiff is then free to pursue his or her own individual case. Please contact us today to speak with a class action lawyer.