Class Action Lawsuits: The Basics

What is a class action lawsuit?

It’s a lawsuit that allows a large number of people with a common interest to sue as a group. A “common interest” is defined as the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action.

Lawsuits are started by people seeking justice for injuries believed to be caused by defective products, including pharmaceutical drugs, motor vehicles and other consumer products, and medical devices.

Here are a few examples that you might have seen in the news within the last year:

  • IVC Filters
  • E-cigarettes powered by lithium-ion batteries
  • Johnson & Johnson Talc Powder
  • GM Ignition Switch Defect

Even if you weren’t the person who got the ball rolling, there’s a chance you’ve been in a class action (or “mass tort”) lawsuit before… and you probably didn’t even know about it until you checked your mail!

So what should you do when you get one of those little cards in the mail, announcing that you might get a small amount from a lawsuit you never filed? How does the whole thing work?

Here are the facts you need to know about class action and mass tort lawsuits:

When Are Class Action Lawsuits Used?

Unlike an individual lawsuit, a class action involves a large number of plaintiffs (sometimes hundreds or thousands) versus just one or a few defendants. They’re used when the facts of each plaintiff’s case are similar.

What Are the Criteria?

  • Each potential plaintiff (in other words, everyone who falls into “the class” or group) must be notified of the lawsuit.
  • Each class member must be given the chance to opt-out.
  • The attorneys representing the class must file a motion in court.
  • The class lawyers must persuade the court that the facts and injuries in all the class members’ cases are similar.
  • They must also persuade the court that it makes more sense to file a class action than a series of individual lawsuits.

Why Would Someone Opt-Out?

Class action lawsuits might seem like “free money,” but they might represent much less money than you could have gotten on your own.

“Sure,” you think, “but then I’d have to spend money on a lawsuit.” Actually, most of these cases are handled on a contingency fee basis, meaning they wouldn’t cost you anything out of pocket — your lawyers would only recover a fee if they won your case.

What Should I Do If I Get a Class Action Notice in the Mail?

At the very least, call up a legal professional and have a quick chat. In some cases, it might make sense to simply register and partake in any potential monetary recovery. But in others, you might not be getting a fair deal.

Remember: if you participate in the class action, you will usually be barred from bringing your own case later.

Class action lawsuits operate on very strict timelines, so you don’t want to delay. If you’ve got a class action notice in the mail, give our office a call! We are here to help.