Close this window

What is a class action?

A class action is a procedure used to prosecute a lawsuit on behalf of a group of people who have been injured by the same or similar course of conduct.  In a class action, one or more people act as named plaintiffs on behalf of the entire group of similarly aggrieved persons.  Class actions have many advantages over an individual action and advance several public policy goals. Perhaps most importantly, class actions provide a means for groups of people injured by the wrongdoing, fraud or other unlawful conduct of powerful, multi-million dollar corporations to join forces to challenge the wrongful conduct where, standing alone, a single individual may be powerless to seek compensation for the harm.  Additionally, because the damages sought in class actions are often substantial, it is more likely that an attorney will be willing to prosecute the action on a contingent basis, enabling the Class representative to bring the action without having to bear the often high costs of litigation.

What kinds of cases can be litigated as class actions?
Class actions are available under appropriate circumstances in virtually every area of the law where a controversy arises.  The class action device can be used to prosecute many types of cases, and such actions have been successful in, for example, labor and employment disputes, consumer fraud cases, securities and antitrust actions, cases alleging human and civil rights violations, and environmental and mass torts cases.

Who may represent the Class and what are the duties of the named plaintiff(s)?
A person may act as the representative plaintiff in a class action if he or she has been harmed or injured by a particular person, corporation or other entity in violation of law, and if he or she has claims that are typical of other class members, has no conflicts of interest with other class members and has chosen competent and experienced counsel to bring the lawsuit. A person who brings a class action on behalf of others has certain duties and responsibilities to the Class, which include having a general knowledge and understanding of the claims and a general familiarity with the allegations of the complaint, maintaining contact with class counsel regarding the status of the case, and being available to provide information, affidavits, deposition testimony, or to appear at trial, if necessary.

How are attorneys paid in class action cases?
The attorneys are usually paid in accordance with an order from the court and only if the case is successful. Class counsel submits a “fee petition” to the court that details the work the attorneys have done on behalf of the class, as well as the expenses that have been incurred. The court then determines or approves the amount of the judgment or settlement proceeds to be paid to the attorneys. The amount of the fees awarded can be based on numerous factors depending on the jurisdiction where the case is pending, including, among others, the quality of the work, the difficulty of the case, the nature of the result, the amount of time spent on the case, and the risks involved in obtaining the recovery.