How to start a class action lawsuit?
Class action lawsuits allow groups of people to join together and take legal action against a common defendant in situations where it would otherwise not be financially viable to file individual lawsuits. If the defendant opts to settle with the group or loses at trial, all class members who have not opted-out of the suit are given a share of the total compensation granted. Class action litigations are often complex, with thousands of claimants coming forward claiming injury and demanding monetary damages. The first steps taken set the tone and are critical to the efficiency of the litigation through to resolution. Here are how these lawsuits get started.
First Steps Toward Class Action
Meet with an attorney. Most class action attorneys offer a free legal evaluation to explore the strengths and weaknesses of a prospective case. They will complete a preliminary factual investigation, review all legal options available, and weigh chances of success. These early discussions offer potential clients some time to consider whether the law firm is a good fit. If both the claimant and the attorney feel the case should proceed, they will enter into a contingency fee agreement whereby payment for legal services is contingent on the amount recovered in the case. If the class action fails, the client would owe the law firm nothing.
File a formal complaint. The complaint is the legal document that formally initiates the class action proceedings. The attorney prepares a complaint describing the events that led to harm. The complaint outlines the legal issues and allegations that would entitle the plaintiffs to recovery and lists the damages they are seeking.
Decide whether to initiate or join a class action. If early discovery identifies the existence of similar claims arising from the same central set of facts against a common defendant, the individual claimant may be able to join an existing class action or initiate their own class action. If the defendant has significant resources to go up against one lawsuit, it makes sense to bargain collectively. Class actions may also be prudent in cases where the amount of tangible harm suffered is relatively low.
Class Certification, Compliance, and Procedure
Seek class certification. One of the most critical steps of the class action lawsuit is receiving class certification through the court. Depending on the state, either the court will initiate the certification process, or the lead plaintiff must file a motion to have the class certified before proceedings may begin. To gain certification, attorneys generally must prove that the case is sufficiently numerous (over 40 class members); that common questions exist for all members; class representatives are typical of the class; class reps have no serious conflicts of interest with other class members, and the class attorney has adequate experience with both the subject matter and class action in general. Other conditions are also applicable depending on specific case factors.
Class certification is vital to getting the litigation off the ground. How smoothly this process goes depends a great deal on preparation and attorney resources. A law firm that works with a class action claims administrator can help expedite the certification process.
Ensure the case meets basic requirements. A judge has the power to reject the class action proposal from the outset. Attorneys should be aware of new regulations and compliance standards, both federally and on the state level.
Achieve court appointment. Once appointed, law firms must work to remain the court-appointed class counsel. This involves considerable case preparation, a notification plan to identify potential claimants, presenting a history of similar class action experience, demonstrating familiarity with the legal issues, and showcasing a commitment to equity and fairness.
The lead plaintiff is typically either the first person who came forward to file the claim or the plaintiff who, after hundreds of individual interviews, is deemed most representative of the class experience. Also known as the “class representative,” this individual (sometimes more than one) works closest with the attorneys and witnesses, attends hearings, and participates in the discovery process, often submitting to depositions and providing other evidence in their possession. Most importantly, the lead plaintiff is responsible for accepting or rejecting settlement offers and weighing the best interests of the class.
Class actions start off complicated and tend to get more complicated the larger they grow and longer they go on. Check out our FAQ for class members.
What is a class action?
A class action is a lawsuit brought by one or more persons or entities, referred to as “named plaintiffs,” on behalf of a large group that has the same type of claim. The group, or class, share common important facts. Claims are typically pursued as a class action when it is not practical or feasible to file many relatively small individual lawsuits. An individual, corporation or government agency may initiate a class action.
How much does it cost me to join a class action lawsuit?
Typically there are no costs associated with joining a class action lawsuit. With most class actions, the attorneys primarily work on a contingent fee basis, where the firm advances all costs and expenses. If the firm is successful in obtaining a recovery on behalf of class members, the firm will ask the court to award attorney fees and costs incurred in the litigation from the recovery. The amount of the fee award will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the recovery, current laws and guidelines, and the duration and complexity of the litigation.
How long will the lawsuit take before it is resolved?
Every settlement is different; therefore, there is no way of knowing exactly when each one will be resolved. Please be patient.
What is a settlement notice?
A settlement notice is a court-approved document that describes the terms of the settlement and outlines the rights of the class members under that settlement.
How much money will I receive?
Every case is different. The benefit awarded to class members depends greatly on the type of claim, the related financial loss, the difficulty establishing the defendants’ liability, the volume of claims filed and approved, and the terms of the settlement agreement. You may be able to find an estimated class benefit on the related case website.
What is a class period?
A class period is a specific time frame during which the defendant is alleged to have acted improperly in the conduct of its business. The class period is defined in the settlement agreement and in other court-approved documents. It is always possible that a class period may be extended or shortened during the preliminary and final settlement hearing decisions.
I live outside of the United States. Can I still participate?
Yes, as long as you are a member of the class as defined in the notice or settlement documents, and you are not an excluded party as defined therein.
How do I file a claim?
If applicable, you must complete a claim form pursuant to the instructions contained therein, sign the certification and, if included, a Substitute Form W-9. Your completed claim form (and supporting documents, as required) should be submitted to the claim administrator as outlined in the filing instructions. It is recommended that you keep a copy of your claim form submission in your files. You should also retain any records you have used to compile your claim concerning purchases of the subject products during the class period. Read the instructions carefully. Fully and accurately complete the claim form, provide supporting documentation if required, submit your claim form by the filing deadline to ensure your form will be considered as part of the settlement.
Do I require assistance to file a claim form?
No. There are companies that may write or call members of a settlement class upon learning of a pending class action settlement and offer to help class members file claim forms in exchange for a share of the money that the class members may ultimately recover. You do not need to use one of these companies. Assistance is available from the administrator, and from class counsel identified in the settlement documents at no cost to you.
Will I receive confirmation of receipt of my claim form?
The administrator generally does not confirm the receipt of every claim in writing, unless specifically required in a settlement agreement. However, you may request such confirmation at any time. You should not assume that your claim has been filed. The best way to confirm receipt of your claim by the settlement administrator if sending via mail is to send your claim by certified mail, return receipt requested, or another delivery method that provides you with proof of mailing and of receipt. Note, except for the overnight postal services, other delivery services (UPS, FedEx, …) cannot deliver to a PO Box. You may also request confirmation from the settlement administrator at any time. Claim forms filed online via the settlement website (if available) will receive a confirmation of claim submittal upon proper completion and submission of the electronic claim.