How does a Class Action Lawsuit Work?
Published on:July 21, 2017

If you watch enough television, you will see commercials from attorneys offering to get people involved in legal action based on their shared personal injury experience. Most of the cases advertised on television involve medications or medical equipment, and these lawsuits are referred to as a class action lawsuit. While class action lawsuits are common, they are different than a standard personal injury lawsuit.

What is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit starts with an individual or small group of people who have been harmed in a similar way by the same organization or individual. These first few plaintiffs are called the lead plaintiffs, and they work with their attorneys to get their civil lawsuit classified as a class action lawsuit to bring in more plaintiffs to put more pressure on the defendant.

How is a Class Action Lawsuit Certified?

A judge must certify a civil lawsuit as a class action lawsuit before more plaintiffs can be involved. In order to be certified as a class action lawsuit, a civil lawsuit must:

  • Have a legitimate legal claim against a single defendant (defendant can be an individual or a legal entity)
  • Prove that the personal injury in question has affected a large group of people
  • Have a lead plaintiff able to present a reasonable a case and be willing to share in the outcome of the case equally with all of the other plaintiffs

If the various plaintiffs in a case have a similar complaint but with different types of personal injury, then a civil case will not be certified. For example, if a piece of medical equipment is causing different types of side-effects in various people, then those cases will not be grouped together into a class action lawsuit. If the lead plaintiff intends to try and keep the award (if there is one) and distribute some smaller degree of compensation to the other plaintiff, then that case will not be certified as a class action lawsuit either.

Notifying Members of a Class Action Lawsuit

In order for a class action lawsuit to be effective, it needs to have as many plaintiffs as possible putting pressure on the defendant. In the days before the Internet, the lead plaintiff would use public records regarding product consumption to send out notices of the lawsuit, or there would be ads placed in national publications to alert potential plaintiffs to the lawsuit and to gather support.

The Internet has made it much easier to put together a large list of plaintiffs as law firms and lead plaintiffs can put notices out on the Internet to gain plaintiffs. There are also websites dedicated to alerting people to their possible inclusion in class action lawsuits.

Distributing the Award

If a class action lawsuit is successful for the plaintiffs, then the courts will decide how the award is divided. The attorneys involved for the plaintiffs are normally awarded a percentage of the proceeds for their fees, and then the lead plaintiffs might get more of an award because of their involvement in putting the lawsuit together. The rest of the proceeds are normally divided equally among the remaining plaintiffs.

Class action lawsuits get attention and can punish an entity that may have escaped criminal prosecution. A class action lawsuit can also be the best way to compensate a large group of victims who have been harmed by a single entity’s negligence.