The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP

Class Action Lawsuits in the USA

Class actions have been around in the United States since the 1960s. A class action lawsuit is a type of lawsuit that involves many dozens to hundreds to thousands to potentially hundreds-of-thousands of injured people to sue one or more defendants. A class action is a legal procedural device designed and signed into law, as rule 23 of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") to create greater efficiencies in litigating lawsuits where one or more defendants (usually big corporations) sold a product or service that caused a common injury to many people.

A class action lawsuit is different than a mass tort, multidistrict litigation ("MDL"), or other types of personal injury legal actions in that the injured people are "clients" of the law firm litigating the class action. The lawyers representing the plaintiffs in a class action do not get paid on an individual basis like they would in a mass tort or MDL. Rather, the lawyers get paid a percentage of the total settlement or judgment if and when the class action is successful.

The downside to this system, of course, is that it increases the chances that an individual plaintiff's case may get lost in the shuffle and not receive the attention it deserves. This is why plaintiffs need to be very careful before they decide whether or not to join a class action lawsuit. It is also why it is so important to have an experienced class action lawyer representing you.

Class actions in the US are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 ("FRCP 23"). FRCP 23 states the requirements a class action must meet in order to be certified by the court.

In order for a class action to be certified, there must be: (a) numerosity - meaning there are enough plaintiffs so that joinder is impractical; (b) commonality - meaning the plaintiffs' claims arise from the same event or course of conduct and are based on the same legal theories; (c) typicality - meaning the claims of the named plaintiffs are representative of the class as a whole; and (d) adequacy of representation - meaning the interests of the plaintiffs will be fairly and adequately represented by counsel.

If these requirements are met, then the court will certify the class and the litigation will proceed as a class action. Class certification is often the most important step in a class action lawsuit. If the court does not certify the class, then the case will likely be dismissed and the plaintiffs will have to file a new lawsuit.

After class certification, the next step in a class action is usually discovery. Discovery is a process where the parties exchange information and documents related to the case. This process can take many months or even years, depending on the complexity of the case.

Eventually, if there is no settlement, the case will go to trial. Trials in class actions are rarely held in front of a jury and most settle though.

The final outcome of a class action lawsuit can take many different forms. The most common outcomes are settlements and judgments. A settlement is an agreement between the parties that usually involves the defendant paying money to the plaintiffs. A judgment is a decision by the court that awards the plaintiffs money or some other type of relief.

After a class action lawsuit settles or a verdict is issued, a member of a class can expect to receive a portion of the settlement or judgment. This money is usually distributed by the court-appointed class representative. The amount each class member receives depends on many factors, including the size of the settlement or judgment and how much work the class representative did on behalf of the class.

As a member of a class action, you are not obligated to be bound by the court's decision if you do not agree with it. You can always choose to opt out of the class action and pursue your own legal action. However, opting out of a class action usually means you will get nothing from the settlement or judgment.

Class actions are a powerful way to hold bad economic actors accountable. They are also a way for injured plaintiffs to seek justice when their individual case may get lost in the shuffle. If you have been injured by a product or service, please contact us for a free consultation. We would be happy to discuss your case with you and see if we can help. Thanks for reading.