It can be daunting to bring a lawsuit as the only plaintiff, especially if you’re going up against a huge company with a lot of resources, or someone who has a lot of power over your life, like a boss or landlord. But if other people are suffering from the same type of harm caused by the same actions of the same people, you may not have to do it alone.
Through class action lawsuits, multiple people can join in as plaintiffs on a case to address the same issues, such as injuries from a defective product or a harmful service, unethical business practices at work, or landlords violating habitability standards. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a class action suit may be a good option.
A class action lawsuit is a suit that represents a “class” of people who have the same issue to litigate against the same defendant. Everyone who is part of the plaintiff’s side in a class action will get a share of any settlement or judgement in their favor.
A class action lawsuit starts with one person, or a small group of people, filing a lawsuit. This person or group is usually referred to as the lead plaintiff or the class representative. The lead plaintiff is the one who files the lawsuit, works directly with their attorney on the case, participates the most in the trial, and accepts or rejects any settlement offers.
If there are other people harmed in the same way under the same circumstances like the original plaintiff was, the case may qualify as a class action suit. A judge will need to decide if the case warrants class action status or not, which the lead plaintiff will have to prove.
If the judge certifies the case as a class action, everyone in the same class will qualify as additional plaintiffs. Other class members who become part of the plaintiff side will be bound to the outcome of the case and won’t be able to bring their own, individual suit on the matter later on.
So, if your boss is routinely violating labor laws like not paying overtime to nonexempt employees, you may be able to pursue legal action. You could chose to file the lawsuit and present the case to a judge for certification as a class action suit. If the case is certified, all of your coworkers who are also being denied overtime pay illegally become additional plaintiffs.
Usually, if you qualify for a class action lawsuit, you join automatically. Most people who qualify to join the class action suit will get a notice, which may appear specifically to them by mail. Or, the notice will be shared with a wider audience to find unknown people who count for the case, like through a newspaper ad or a television commercial.
Not everyone who qualifies for a class action suit may want to participate, however. Perhaps you want to file your own individual lawsuit and don’t want to be bound by the court’s decision of the class action case. You may want to have more control over whether you agree to a settlement or not.
When that happens, you will need to actively opt-out to no longer be considered part of the case. The notice should provide information on how to opt out, but if it doesn’t, you should contact the lead plaintiff or their attorney to find out how to withdraw. This is typically as simple as writing a letter to the attorney saying you want to opt out.
This differs from a collective action suit, which generally follows the same principles of a class action, except no one is automatically joined into a collective action. Instead, eligible members must opt in to become part of the case.
If you opt out of a class action and the suit gets a favorable judgement or settlement, you won’t qualify for any of that compensation.
If you’re not the lead plaintiff, you don’t really have any obligations during the case. It may be helpful, however, to contact the attorney to help provide additional evidence or testimony to strengthen the case. Contacting the attorney can also help ensure you get notice of any compensation you qualify for, as you may be able to get a direct notice and not just a public one.
If you don’t want to participate in the trial or contact the attorney, you don’t have to. But in order to get part of the settlement, you’ll need to look for a direct notice or a public notice to find out how to claim your share.
That’s one benefit of a class action lawsuit—you don’t necessarily have to participate in the trial if you don’t want to, but you could still get compensation.
Another benefit is the cost. When there are multiple plaintiffs, the costs of filing and hiring an attorney are split, making it less expensive than if everyone had to file their own suit individually.
Many class action attorneys, though not all, work on a contingency, which means instead of having to pay up front for their services, their pay will come out of any money your side is awarded if you win.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified class action lawsuit lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local class action lawsuit attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.
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