What is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action is a lawsuit where a large number of individuals have suffered the same or similar harm. These individuals, known as a “class” file a civil lawsuit against one or several entities. While the subject matter of class action lawsuits varies, the two factors that remain the same in all class action lawsuits are that the issues in dispute are common to the entire class, and the persons affected are too numerous to bring each individual case before the court. These cases can be brought in state or federal course depending on the case. 

Reasons for bringing a Class Action Lawsuit

Most often, class action lawsuits are brought for public policy reasons. Sometimes, class actions are the only means of enabling common individuals to recover from their injuries caused by large corporations and entities. Also, most often, the costs of individual lawsuits would be far greater than the value of the claim for one person. Therefore, but for a class action without any legal ramifications, the entity would likely continue their conduct. 

However, class actions allow many individuals who could not afford a lawsuit on their own to not only recover for their injuries but also remedy injustices committed by large corporations who have harmed them. These plaintiffs have the resources to hire an attorney and obtain restitution by filing the legal action as a group.  Also, where there is a pattern of wrongdoing, the large lawsuit allows a single judgment as opposed to many judgments. This avoids the risks of the inconsistency of judgments on important matters that affect many individuals.

 Further, this means fewer cases congesting small claims court that could have easily been dealt with in one lawsuit. More than anything, class actions motivate defendants to settle since there are so many plaintiffs.

Reasons against bringing a Class Action Lawsuit

Some reasons why a plaintiff may not want to bring a class-action lawsuit are that plaintiffs may feel cheated based on the time and energy spent on the case. Class action cases can take a long time to settle. When class members turn over control to attorneys, they may have certain expectations. The plaintiffs may receive a small award which may be a coupon or rebate instead of cash, which could be disappointing to some individuals who expect a cash award for their injury. 

The plaintiffs also give up the right to sue individually, so they must live with the outcome of the case no matter what. When complex lawsuits drag on for years due to the number of plaintiffs, and damages do not amount to much due to the fact that they are divided among the entire group. Therefore, going into it, if plaintiffs are prepared for the outcome and ready to fight for their cause no matter the time frame, they will likely have a sufficient disposition for a class-action lawsuit, and all it may entail. 

Do you have a claim?

This can be proven in the same way a class is certified. To prove there is a claim, the representative plaintiff must follow Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 

1)    The number of class members renders it impracticable to join them in the action.

2)    The class members’ claims share common questions of law or fact.

3)    The claims or defenses of the proposed class representatives are typical of those for the rest of the class

4)    The proposed class representatives will adequately protect the interests of the entire class. 

Further, in addition to the numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation requirements of  Rule 23(a), the court must make at least one of the following findings from Rule 23(b).

1)    Requiring separate actions by or against the class members would create a risk of inconsistent rulings or that a ruling with respect to individual class members may be dispositive of other class member claims thereby “substantially impairing or impeding their ability to protect their interests. 

2)    The party against whom the class seeks relief has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class so that injunctive or declaratory relief as to the entire class would be appropriate.

3)    Common questions of law or fact predominate over class members’ specific questions and that proceeding by what of a class action would be “superior to other available methods” for resolving the dispute. 

What is the typical procedure for a class action lawsuit?

A single person is usually sufficient to file a lawsuit, so long as their lawyer is confident with good faith belief that other people were injured in a similar way. One or a few representatives file the lawsuit while other potential class members are simply instructed on how to receive their award in case of settlement of positive trial verdict. 

A group or class of plaintiffs is represented by one or more “lead” plaintiffs. The injuries suffered and allegations alleged by the lead plaintiffs must be similar to those of the other class members. The lead plaintiff must demonstrate that the class has a valid claim against the defendant and that all members have similar claims. The lead plaintiff must also show that the suit can adequately represent all group members.

Class action lawsuits are usually filed either against government entities, financial institutions, manufacturers, retailers, or employers. A class-action lawsuit is best when there are too many potential plaintiffs for a personal injury lawsuit. A class-action lawsuit can be commenced where the plaintiff files a complaint that contains allegations of the lawsuit. 

Then, when the lawsuit is filed, every individual who could have been affected by the class action has a right to be notified. They are entitled to the best notice possible, which could be through ads in tv, newspapers, magazines, or flyers. The court will tailor notice to best fit the case. 

Once potential members are notified, they can usually opt-in or opt-out.  If members have more specified injuries caused by a specific defendant such as a plane crash, these members are usually automatically a part of the class action, and cannot opt-out. Plaintiffs who wish to opt-out of the class action suit must follow a specific procedure. If they do not follow this, they will remain as a part of the class until they do so.

Once the class action complaint is filed and served on the defendant, the class must be certified. This must occur before the lawsuit can proceed. The judge is allowed to exercise a fair amount of discretion in this process. Arguments for and against certification can be complex. A class certification basically means that the case has been vetted so that there is a viable claim and that the defendant is now facing a legitimate lawsuit. 

To be certified as a class, the requirements are the same as the lead plaintiff’s ability to have a claim. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) explains it must be impracticable to join all the claimants in one lawsuit. If there are 40+ people, this is usually sufficient, while 20 would not usually be sufficient for a class action. The claims must all be based on the same problem or wrongdoing, the named plaintiffs or class representatives must have the same or similar, and defenses to the claims must be the same or similar as well. Further, the class representatives must provide fair and adequate protection for the class. 

At this point, if the class is not certified, the case will be dismissed. If the class is certified, it can then move on to pre-trial procedures. Settlement negotiations may begin at this point as well. Most class action suits are settled out of court. 

The benefits of class actions are that they are efficient, collecting, and disposing of claims. They ensure each member is compensated for their injury or loss. The costs of the lawsuit are also lower due to the fact that 

Class action lawsuits rarely go to trial. If they are not dismissed they usually negotiate a settlement before the trial date. Before settlement, the judge must approve the proposed settlement with attorney’s fees. The judge must make sure the amount is fair to all members of the class who will in turn be stuck with the settlement. Each member of the class will then receive a percentage of the total amount. The award may consist of cash, refund, services to monitor credit, or a certain benefit. 

Common Types of Class Action Lawsuits

The most common categories of class action lawsuits are environmental, finance, employment, civil rights, product defects, and dangerous drugs. 

Environment 

Some environmental issues that affect air or water typically affect large classes of individuals. When there is this type of contamination, these cases are brought to change the way the defendants dispose of their waste, to promulgate them to make greater efforts to avoid polluting the environment and avoid future litigation. The Cochran Firm has handled environmental cases where pollution in the air from a chemical plant caused property and personal damage to nearby residential areas. The firm won another case in this category when a company left zinc waste in a West Virginia community which put the residents at risk for cancer and disease. 

Finance

These class-action lawsuits often involve predatory lending and breaches of security law. Victims of fraud can bring these lawsuits to recover and ensure practices are changed to protect the interests of investors and future customers. This can also involve securities fraud. 

Employment

Employment class action lawsuits lead to defendants and similarly situated businesses to change their practices. Common types involve wage and hour laws, sexual harassment, discriminatory hiring or pay, hostile workplaces, or businesses being run against federal or state law. This can also involve manipulative business practices.

Civil Rights

Class action lawsuits are common with civil rights lawsuits, meant to bring about impactful and sustainable change. Notable cases have been integrating public schools, and more recently calling for fair conduct of police, sex discrimination policies, and unfair treatment of those with disabilities. The Cochran Firm currently has a case in Atlanta where many local attorneys are suing the city for their methods of handling police brutality cases. 

Product Defects

These product class actions make up a significant portion of all class action cases. In these cases, a defect in a product impacts many individuals. Where a successful verdict is reached, individuals are entitled to damages based on their injuries. These lawsuits require manufacturers to change their practices to prevent injuries of this sort from their products in the future. 

Dangerous Drugs

Defective drugs and pharmaceuticals often create injury in a multitude of people. Individuals can bring lawsuits in this category to encourage certain pharmaceutical companies to maintain safer testing procedures and products in the future. The Cochran Firm is currently handling opioid lawsuits in the state of Nevada and represents nearly all counties and cities, as well as local Native American tribes. 

Cochran Firm Notable Cases:

The Cochran Firm has won many class action cases for clients. Some notable cases are related to the class action categories of dangerous drugs and environmental issues.

The Firm ended up with a $182.5 Million Jury Verdict against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Baxter Healthcare Corp., and McKesson Corp who gave 3 clients contaminated vials of Propofol that resulted in the individuals contracting hepatitis C.

They also received a $381 Million Jury Verdict on behalf of residents of Spelter, West Virginia who were put at risk of cancer, heart disease, and lead poisoning when E.I. DuPont negligently created a 112 – acre zinc waste site in their community. DuPont was ordered to pay for the clean up of the property and medical monitoring for the residents of the community Settlement for racial discrimination against the John Deere Company. Our client was a 30 – year employee who was twice denied ownership of a dealership and the results of his case included a mandate for the John Deere Company to create at least 20 African American owned dealerships by 2014.

The Firm received a $700 Million Judgement and Settlement against a chemical plant when the chemical PCB was allowed to migrate off site resulting in property damage and personal injuries.

Finally, The Firm received over $1 Billion in recoveries for victims of the weight loss drug Fen – Phen. The lawsuit was against the manufacturer American Home Products. All in all, The Cochran Firm has secured over $35 billion in verdicts, settlements, and judgments for their clients. 

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