What is a Class Action Lawsuit and How Does it Differ from Other Lawsuits?

You’ve probably heard of class action lawsuits—but what exactly are they, and how do they differ from other types of lawsuits? Class action lawsuits occur when a group of people have suffered similar injuries and damages by the same product or action. The injured plaintiffs sue the negligent party as a group, as opposed to filing individual suits. You may also hear some class action lawsuits referred to as multi-district litigation (MDL), or mass tort litigation.

Class actions are important for a number of reasons. For one, the individual claims of the victims injured by a device or action might only amount to a small amount of damages. This may deter some injured parties from filing their claim at all, when they factor in the legal costs associated with the claim. However, consolidating these claims can add up to a significant amount in damages. When a claim is consolidated into a class action, the attorneys, evidence, and other aspects of the claims are also consolidated. That means that victims who might otherwise not have filed their claim due to the costs are more likely to join in the lawsuit.

In order for a lawsuit to become a class action, a judge must certify the plaintiffs as a class. For this to be approved, the plaintiffs must all share a common complaint, and the defendants must have a similar defense for all the claims. If the judge certifies the class, the judge must then define the scope of the class. For instance, in a defective product class-action, the judge might define the scope of the class as anyone who purchased a specific make and model of a product during a certain period of time.  

Active and Inactive Participants

Sometimes class action lawsuits encompass hundreds or even thousands of participants. Obviously with that many people involved, not everyone can play an active role in the lawsuit. Casual participants in a lawsuit are those plaintiffs who have joined the lawsuit, but who do not take any active role in the case. These participants will receive compensation if the case is won, but it will be a smaller amount than those who were active participants. Active participants in lawsuits are the designated plaintiffs who take part in all steps of the litigation. Active participants will receive a larger percentage of compensation if the case is won.

Notifying Potential Class Members

When a class action lawsuit is filed, every person who would be impacted by the outcome of the case has a right to be notified about the suit. Sometimes it’s not possible to track down every single person who was affected by a certain product or action, but the class representative is responsible for making reasonable attempts to notify potential class members of the lawsuit. The type of notification required will vary depending on the case. Some serious defective product lawsuits may require notification via media outlets, such as television and radio ads. Once potential members are notified, they have the opportunity to opt in and become members of the class, or to opt out.

Outcome of Class Actions

When the court comes to a decision about a class action case, the judgment will apply to every participant of the class. If the judge finds in favor of the plaintiff, the judge will develop a plan to distribute the compensation to the active participant and each member of the class.

Examples of Class Actions

There have been several class action lawsuits that have had a significant impact on the U.S. legal system. One class action most people would likely recall from history class is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. This is the landmark lawsuit that resulted in the decision that “separate but equal” (segregated) schools were unconstitutional. It is a very important milestone for the civil rights movement.

Another famous class action lawsuit is Anderson v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. This lawsuit was the basis for the Julia Roberts film Erin Brockovich. The case, which ended in 1996, was brought by the residents of Hinkley, California. It alleged that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. had knowingly contaminated the region’s groundwater with chromium-6. The lawsuit was successful, resulting in a $333 million settlement.

“If you have been injured by a product or action that may have affected other people as well, a class action lawsuit may be the best option solution. Consult with a personal injury attorney to find out more,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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