How do class action lawsuits get started?

Imagine for a moment that a car manufacturer builds a model of car that has a defective brake line.

Anytime you drive over 50 miles per hour, the brake line has a 10% chance of failing. Unless you rarely use your car, pretty soon, you will be driving at high speed and find yourself unable to slow down or stop. And unless you are very lucky, that failure will likely result in an accident.

Your first instinct after such an accident would likely be to sue the manufacturer. But you wouldn’t be the only one interested in suing.

Remember, everyone who bought that model would have experienced the same defect. That means there are potentially hundreds or even thousands of other people who are also interested in pursuing litigation.

This example represents how most class action lawsuits get started. One person is harmed by the negligence of another party and decides to sue. When they contact a lawyer, they discover that others have been similarly injured and choose to pursue a class action lawsuit instead of a personal lawsuit.

If you’ve been harmed in an accident that wasn’t your fault, contact an attorney at Morgan & Morgan to get a free case evaluation and find out whether a class action lawsuit is the right option.

The Definition of a Class

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure defines the federal rules for a class action lawsuit. The most important rule is the definition of a class.

A class is a group of litigants with similar claims against a company or a group of defendants. You can’t simply declare that you and others are part of a class — a civil court must certify your class status. A class can only be certified after its scope has been defined.

For example, a class could include anyone who lived at 123 Abbey Street from 1957 to 1988. The people who lived at that address during that period would be members of that class, even if they weren’t harmed and have no intention of filing a lawsuit. 

If a person falls into that definition and doesn’t want to be part of the class, they must opt out before the case begins.

What are the Steps Required in a Class Action Lawsuit?

Defining and certifying a class is the first requirement for every class action lawsuit, but it still isn’t enough to begin litigation. Before a trial can begin, lawyers for the class must complete several other actions, including:

  • Notifying all potential members of the class that a class action lawsuit is being filed
  • Providing a cost-free method for any member of the class to opt out if desired
  • Becoming appointed as counsel for the entire class for the duration of the trial
  • Creating a plan for the distribution of damages to members of the class

Setting up a class action lawsuit often takes months or years. The attorneys involved must identify the members of the class and reach out to them individually. Usually, they reach out to these people through both email and traditional mail.

It can take a long time for investigators to compile contact information for everybody in the class, and the lawsuit can’t get underway until the attorneys have made every reasonable attempt to contact each member of the class.

Trial or Settlement?

Most class action lawsuits never make it to trial. Companies will usually settle with the litigants rather than risk a jury award or damage to their public reputations. The courts must approve settlements, and unfair settlements are typically denied — but if a class action case ends in a settlement, it can save years of troublesome litigation.

When a case does go to trial, it often takes years for it to reach a conclusion. Because a class action lawsuit involves hundreds or thousands of litigants, there might be hundreds or thousands of pieces of evidence to consider. This preponderance of evidence supports the case but slows down the proceedings considerably.

Why Would Someone Opt Out of a Class Action Lawsuit?

If you don’t opt out of a class action lawsuit, you forfeit your right to sue separately. That’s why the attorneys handling the case must make every reasonable effort to contact you, inform you of the suit, and give you an opportunity to opt out if you wish.

What Are the Advantages of a Class Action Lawsuit?

Lawsuits are expensive. A single civil suit could easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. If everyone sued independently, there’s a good chance that many would lose money on the litigation or that the suits would take so long that many would never be completed.

A class action lawsuit ensures that every member of a class receives compensation, even if the sum is lower than they might get in an individual lawsuit.

Morgan and Morgan Can Assist You With Class Action Lawsuits

How do class action lawsuits get started? It’s simple: Consult with one of the talented attorneys at Morgan & Morgan and ask about your legal options. If your attorney believes you’re eligible to join an existing class action lawsuit or start a new one, they’ll advise you on how to proceed and represent you every step of the way.

Don’t wait to act if you’ve been harmed by someone else’s negligence. Contact Morgan and Morgan today to schedule a free case evaluation.