Class action lawsuits allow for hundreds of plaintiffs to be represented in a single case. If you’ve ever bought a cell phone, subscribed to cable TV or taken medication, chances are you’ve received a postcard on the mail notifying you of a class action lawsuit that you may be eligible to join. These cases typically are civil lawsuits filed in state or federal courts and involve more than 100 identifiable plaintiffs seeking compensation, often totaling in the millions, from a single defendant or class of defendants. Though various state rules may apply, the overall process is governed by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Among the primary requirements are:
- Certification: A state or federal judge must certify the plaintiffs as a class of victims for whom suing individually would be impractical. They all must share a common complaint against the defendants, and the defendants must share a similar defense against all plaintiffs. Only about 40 percent of lawsuits filed as class actions qualify for certification.
- Defining the class: A judge must define the scope of characteristics for the plaintiff class. For example, a plaintiff class in a lawsuit over injuries or potential injuries caused by a particular medication may be made up of patients who took that medication during a specified time period.
- Notification: All potential plaintiffs must be notified either by mail, newspaper advertisements, TV commercials, etc., depending upon the scope of the class.
- Opting out: If you fall within the defined scope of the class, then you are automatically included in the case and bound by the final judgment. However, if you prefer to file your own lawsuit or to skip participation altogether, you have the right to opt out of the class action suit. Your notice will include directions on how to opt out.
- Appointing counsel: The judge will appoint representative counsel for the plaintiffs. In most cases, this will be the same lawyer who filed the case. However, a judge has the final say on plaintiff representation depending upon whether the filing attorney is experienced in class action proceedings, is highly knowledgeable in the particular subject area, and will fairly represent the class.
- Distribution of damages: If the plaintiffs prevail, the judge will work with the appointed counsel to develop a plan for distributing any monetary damages awarded in the trial or agreed upon in a settlement. The judge also has a say in how and how much the attorneys are paid.
If you receive a notice indicating that you’re included in a class of plaintiffs, it’s always a good idea to contact an attorney independently. An experienced lawyer can help determine whether your interests will be best served in a class action lawsuit or by filing an individual case. Contact Harrell and Harrell, Jacksonville personal injury and product liability attorneys, at 800-251-1111.