Class actions allow the court to hear a single case or handle only a handful of cases, and apply the outcome to all members of a much larger group. Class actions work by defining the characteristics of the members of the group, or class, and ensuring the cases selected to go before the judge are representative of the other members’ stories.
Identifying a potential class action lawsuit is only the first step in a complex process. You will need a knowledgeable attorney familiar with class actions who has the resources to handle this type of case.
What Is the Idea Behind a Class Action Lawsuit?
Lawsuits can be expensive. And if you are one of many filing a lawsuit against the same company, you might be unable to recover the compensation you deserve. A class action lawsuit simplifies the process by consolidating the dozens or thousands of cases into one or a few.
This means the legal teams involved share resources and only need to go through the pre-trial, discovery, and trial processes once, instead of each plaintiff clogging the legal system with his own suit. This can make the process quicker for everyone involved.
And, because class actions divide the settlement equally between all the class members, if the action is successful, you are guaranteed to recover something. What you recover depends on the severity of the injuries you suffered and the number of people in your class. You might recover something as small as a coupon for free services or as substantial as thousands of dollars for your harms.
How Does a Class Action Work?
Each class action proceeds in the same way.
Filing the Action
When we file a complaint, we can ask the judge to certify it as a class action. In our class action lawsuit complaint, we need to explain why we believe this matter qualifies as a class action and outline the criteria for qualifying as a member of the class.
Just because we ask for a class action does not mean the judge will grant it. We need the judge to certify the class to make it official.
Determining the Venue
Class action lawsuits proceed at either the state or federal level. Depending on the specifics of the case, some need to be heard in a federal court while others are fine in a state court. The judge who certifies the class may transfer a case from state to federal court, if necessary. This change of venue means the hearings will occur in another location, in front of a different judge.
Informing the Class Members
One of the most complex tasks in some class action suits is the notification of all potential class members. There is not always a mailing list available, such as the case when the class members all used the same defective product. When this occurs, we often use television and print advertising to notify class members. Sometimes, this occurs early in the lawsuit, but it may also occur once the case concludes in court.
Once the potential class members receive notification, they can opt in or opt out of any possible settlement. Unless they opt out, they cannot pursue individual action against the defendant. They will instead receive compensation only if the plaintiffs win the class action lawsuit.
The first step in the court proceedings is a period of discovery. During this phase, each of the parties collects evidence and shares it with the other party. Often, the defense will offer a settlement during this period. It may discover evidence, recognize the strength of the plaintiffs’ case, or simply not want to spend the money on a trial.
In a class action, the class representative can negotiate on behalf of the class members, but the judge must approve any offer before it becomes official. It there is a settlement agreement approved by the judge, usually he establishes a fund to pay class members. If there is no settlement agreement during this period or during pretrial proceedings, the case goes to trial.
Applying the Outcome
No matter the outcome of a class action lawsuit, it applies to the entire class. If the defendant convinces the court of its innocence, the court could dismiss the suit. This means no one who opted in will receive compensation or be able to pursue an individual claim.
If the court agrees with the plaintiffs, the judge must also award damages. The judge either creates a fund to pay victims from or determines an amount paid to each victim. Only those who opted in receive compensation. Those who opted out will need to pursue an individual lawsuit to collect money for their damages.
Should I Call a Class Action Lawsuit Attorney About My Case?
Handling a class action lawsuit requires special training and skills. It is important you have a knowledgeable attorney on your side through this process. Call Gacovino, Lake & Associates, P.C. today at 631-600-0000 to get started on your case.