Class actions can seem complicated and mysterious. But understanding how they work can help you protect your rights.
Let’s face it, most of us don’t deal with the legal system regularly. But sometimes companies mess up or events happen that affect groups of people. That’s when class actions come in. They allow people with similar grievances to band together and seek justice.
This article will walk you through the key steps in a class action so you know what to expect.
Identifying the Class and Certification
The first step is identifying the class. This means figuring out if there are enough people with similar claims against the same defendant to justify combining into a class. Usually, at least 40 or so is considered “numerous” enough.
If the court agrees the class size is sufficient, the next step is certification. The judge will evaluate whether the claims have enough in common (“commonality”) if the lead plaintiff’s claims are typical of the class (“typicality”), and if that plaintiff can adequately represent the whole class (“adequacy of representation”).
If certified, the lead plaintiff acts as the class representative, filing a lawsuit on behalf of everyone in the class. The outcome of the case is then binding on all class members.
Notice and Opt-Out
Once the court certifies the class, the real work begins. Potential class members must be notified about the lawsuit and given a chance to opt out. This means you’ll receive official notice, usually by mail, explaining the nature of the claims in the lawsuit, who is eligible to participate, and how to exclude yourself (opt-out) if you prefer.
If you do nothing, you’re automatically included as a class member. But if you want to pursue your own claim independently or just avoid being part of the legal action altogether, you must return the opt-out form, typically within 60 to 90 days.
Be aware that by opting out, you forfeit the right to share in any settlement or award achieved by the class. So weigh your options carefully before deciding. If enough people opt out, it can threaten the viability of the entire class action.
The discovery process allows both parties to gather evidence to support their case. As the plaintiff, this is your opportunity to request relevant documents and information from the defendants that may be useful for your case. This can be done in the following ways:
- Document requests
Going through discovery requires time and resources, but the information and evidence you obtain can make or break your case. Use this stage wisely to gather as much useful material as possible to strengthen your position. While complex, navigating discovery effectively is well worth the effort.
The pretrial process involves filing various motions to resolve issues before trial. As a party to complex litigation like a class action, you’ll want to pay close attention to pretrial motions filed by either side. Pretrial motions allow parties to ask the court to make certain rulings before the trial begins.
The pretrial process can significantly impact the course and outcome of complex litigation. Paying attention to deadlines and filings helps ensure your interests as a class member are represented during this important stage.
Working closely with class counsel, providing relevant information, and voicing your opinions on strategic decisions are all ways to stay engaged in the pretrial process.
Trial or Settlement
If litigation proceeds to trial, the stakes increase significantly. The outcome of a trial determines whether the class is entitled to damages and the amount.
More often, class actions settle before trial. Both sides want to avoid the cost and uncertainty of litigation. The court must approve any settlement to ensure it’s fair for all class members.
Settlements typically involve the defendant agreeing to pay damages, change business practices, or both. Class members can then claim their share of the settlement fund. Some may opt out of the settlement and pursue their own claims.
While a trial determines liability and damages, settlements allow both sides to negotiate a compromise. For plaintiffs, a settlement guarantees an outcome and payment. For defendants, settlement caps the total liability and avoids the risk of an unfavorable trial verdict.
Notice of Settlement
Once a settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit, the members of the class must be notified. As a class member, you’ll receive a notice explaining the terms of the settlement and your options. After receiving the settlement notice, you typically have a few choices:
- Accept the settlement. If you do nothing, you automatically accept the terms of the settlement and waive your right to sue the defendants for the same claims.
- Object to the settlement. If you disagree with some aspect of the settlement, you can file a written objection with the court before the objection deadline. The court will consider your objection before approving the settlement.
- Appear in court. Some class members may be allowed to appear before the judge at the final settlement approval hearing to voice their objections or concerns in person. Check with the court for the rules regarding personal appearances.
Fairness Hearing and Settlement Approval
The fairness hearing is where the court evaluates the terms of the settlement. The court also considers any objections from class members before deciding whether to approve the settlement.
Class members who oppose the settlement have the right to file written objections with the court stating their concerns. The judge will review all objections before the fairness hearing to determine if any modifications to the settlement terms should be made.
If the judge finds the settlement to be “fair, reasonable, and adequate” after considering all objections, the settlement will likely gain final approval. This means affected class members will be eligible to receive settlement benefits like monetary awards or injunctive relief.
Distribution of Settlement Funds
Once a settlement has been reached or a judgment awarded, the real work begins in distributing funds to all the class members. As a class member, there are a few steps you’ll need to take to claim your portion of the settlement.
You’ll receive a notification, usually by mail or email, informing you of your rights and the process for filing a claim. Carefully review all documentation to understand your options and deadlines. Claim forms will need to be submitted, often with supporting evidence like receipts or statements, to verify your membership in the class.
Decide if you want to opt out of the settlement and pursue your own individual claim. While less common, you reserve the right to opt out, in which case you won’t receive any funds from the settlement. Opting out means you’re on your own to litigate your claim separately.
If either party disagrees with the outcome of the trial, they have the right to file an appeal with the appropriate appeals court.
An appeal allows the higher court to review the procedures and verdict of the original trial to determine if there were any errors. If errors are found, the appeals court can reverse or modify the original decision. Appeals must be filed within a certain time period, typically 30 days from the final judgment.
The appeals process can be complex, often involving written briefs from both parties explaining their positions, as well as oral arguments before the appeals court judges.
The appeals court will then issue a written opinion on whether the original trial court’s decision should be upheld, reversed, or remanded (sent back) for a new trial. If the parties remain unsatisfied, the case can be appealed to the state supreme court or U.S. Supreme Court.
Hire an Experienced Class Action Lawsuit Attorney
Embark on your class action journey with confidence. Contact Class Action Lawyer Coalition today for unwavering legal support. Our experienced law firm guides you through the intricate procedures, ensuring your rights are upheld.
Call us at 855-938-0980 for a complimentary consultation session. Whether you’re seeking justice or clarification, our toll-free number paves the way to expert advice. Let us be your compass in navigating the complexities of class action lawsuits – your pursuit of justice starts here.