In some ways, a class-action lawsuit is simple. It’s when one or a few people bring a lawsuit against some entity on behalf of a group of people who have been hurt in similar ways by the entity, and the process of being the lead plaintiff is similar to bringing a private lawsuit except that you have to get your case certified as a class action. It’s even simpler to be part of the class- if the court identifies you as one of the people who were injured in the same way and by the same group as the lead plaintiff, you will get a notice and all you have to do is not opt-out.
In other ways, class-actions are not so simple. Whether you want to participate in one or initiate one will depend on your circumstances.
Strength In Numbers
A good reason to start or join a class action is that there is a large group of people hurt by something. Federal Rules Of Civil Procedure 23 sets out the standards for a court to certify a case as a class action, and the first standard is that the group that was injured by the company has to be ‘so numerous’ that everyone individually being named in the case would be impracticable. In practice, 40 or more people in a group is generally considered big enough. According to Nolo, a group of less than 21 people may not be. Some courts don’t have a prescribed number of people that will qualify, but want courts to consider factors such as how widely dispersed a group is. Rule 23 also lets a court create subgroups ‘where appropriate’ of a class, and the subgroups will be treated as a separate class. Each of the subgroups have to be big enough to qualify as its own class.
Since the size of the class has to be clearly defined, you will need to provide direct or circumstantial evidence of the size of your group to the court. If you are the lead plaintiff, you will be the one consulting with the lawyers to confirm the size of your class, though a lawyer who specializes in class actions will be able to help you. Keep in mind that you will be expected to have a story that is similar to everyone else in the group so that you will be able to adequately represent it as a whole.
Changing The Company’s Behavior
One of the reasons that a class action may be certified is if the defendants have acted (or omitted to act) for reasons that apply to the whole class. Why might they do that? Because it has worked for them, and they will continue to use the same reasons and the same actions for as long as they do work for them. One thing they might do is get in the habit of brushing off individual claims for relatively small amounts. It doesn’t seem worth the effort of suing or settling. Joining or starting a class action will make it worth the effort by making big settlements or judgments possible.
Another circumstance where bringing a class action will be a good idea is if you want to make a pattern of behavior obvious. After all, Rule 23 states that, to get certified as a class action, the lawsuit has to involve people whose cases have facts or questions of law in common. This gives you the power of Big Data and makes finding a pattern of illegal behavior easier and highlight that the company or whoever has done something illegal a lot.
If you are interested in getting more information about class-action lawsuits, contact Aiman-Smith and Marcy. We are a mid-sized law firm that specializes in consumer fraud, employment law, and, yes, class-action lawsuits in California. We bring expertise and commitment to all we do.