A class action is a type of lawsuit in which one or several persons sue on behalf of a larger group of persons, referred to as “the class.” The class action originated in the United States and is still predominantly a U.S. phenomenon, but several European countries with civil law, have made changes in recent years to allow consumer organizations to bring claims on behalf of consumers. Put simply, the device allows courts to manage lawsuits that would otherwise be unmanageable if each class member were required to be joined in the lawsuit as a named plaintiff.
These cases may involve consumer fraud or defective products. With mass tort litigation, each plaintiff, even though hundreds or thousands of people may have been affected, retains his or her own individual lawsuit.
There are several benefits to filing a consumer class action lawsuit. Three of the major benefits are:
- Ability to file a claim that may be too small to file individually
- More leverage with more consumers involved
- No legal fees are incurred or owed until the case is successfully closed
Although it sometimes helps if several people are named as plaintiffs in the suit, a single person is generally enough to file a lawsuit so long as the attorney for the class has a good faith belief that a number of other people were injured in a similar way. It generally takes at least 30-50 people with similar claims, and sometimes many more, to qualify as a class action.
The lead plaintiff is typically chosen by the courts as a representative member of the class action, meaning that his or her experiences and needs will closely mirror that of the average class member. The lead plaintiff is often the first plaintiff who brings the case to the attention of the attorneys involved, so he or she will essentially be the one responsible for choosing the legal representation that will be used to move the case forward. The lead plaintiff will also have the responsibility of assisting with the class action and moving the case forward, along with his or her legal team of experts.
Banding together hundreds—or even hundreds of thousands—of individuals into one lawsuit gives the case more merit and forces the defendant to take notice. For many victims, class action litigation has provided the only meaningful way for redress from widespread discrimination, fraud, and other violations of the law.