What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
October 14th, 2017
The highest-profile class actions lawsuits often involve drugs or medical devices such as breast implants that have harmed thousands or tens of thousands of people due to defective design, defective manufacture, or failure to warn patients of known risks. While that type of wrongful action on the part of a pharmaceutical company or medical device manufacturer is often best pursued in this manner, class action lawsuits have much broader application.
Some recent high-profile class action lawsuits that demonstrate the range of wrongs that can be addressed in this format include:
• A class action lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines which alleges that the company’s decisions and communications in the days leading up to Hurricane Harvey put customers in danger.
• Multiple class action lawsuits against Equifax in connection with the recent data security breach that exposed personal information about 143 million people, putting them at risk for identity theft.
• A class action lawsuit on behalf of sick and elderly Texas prisoners, after 23 heat-related inmate deaths.
• A $130 million class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of red light cameras and the city of Southlake, Texas.
• A proposed class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of a device used during the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas earlier this month, filed on behalf of those injured or subjected to emotional distress during the shooting.
Class Action Lawsuits v. Mass Torts Litigation
A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit in which a large number of people who have been similarly harmed by a wrongful action join together to litigate their claims in one case. This is often a better approach for injured parties, because litigation can be expensive and time-consuming. When claims are litigated in one case, hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs can be represented by one legal team, have evidence analyzed by one set of experts, and otherwise combine their efforts.
A class action lawsuit also allows for relief in situations where no individual plaintiff’s claim has a high enough value to warrant filing an individual suit. You may have been a party to class actions of this type with no more participation than cashing a small check that arrived in the mail after the case settled.
Class action lawsuits and mass torts cases both involve large numbers of plaintiffs who have suffered similar injuries or damages based on the same actions or breach of duty on the part of the defendant. The key difference between the two types of litigation is the treatment of the plaintiffs. In a class action lawsuit, one or more “named plaintiffs” represent the whole class and their damages are representative of the whole class. In a mass tort case, damages must be proven with regard to each individual plaintiff.
The Impact of Joining a Class Action
When a court “certifies a class” in a class action lawsuit, that order permits the attorneys and named plaintiffs to proceed on behalf of all similarly-situated injured parties. However, potential plaintiffs may choose to opt out of the class action and pursue claims on their own. Whether it is wise to join or opt out of the class depends on the specifics of your case and your ability and willingness to pursue litigation on your own.
If you receive notice regarding a lawsuit like the music CD case mentioned above, or the recent class action involving pricing of optical DVD drives sold in the mid-2000s, the decision is usually an easy one. It’s not likely that you’ll pursue direct litigation against the manufacturer who overcharged you by $50 or so a decade ago (and it’s not likely you’ll find an attorney interested in taking on that case on an individual basis). In fact, many people simply don’t bother to opt out of this type of class action, or never read the information they receive in the mail.
Consulting with a Personal Injury Attorney before Joining a Class Action
However, if you receive notice that you are a potential plaintiff in a class action lawsuit and significant damages are involved—for example, if you have suffered serious medical complications or ongoing harm as the result of a faulty medical device—you should speak with a personal injury attorney experienced in handling cases like yours before making a decision.
Participating in a class action requires far less investment of time and is less expensive than pursuing individual litigation. But, most class members receive significantly lower compensation than they might in an individual suit. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to weigh the decision with the guidance of a knowledgeable attorney. You can schedule a free consultation by calling (713) 932-0777 or filling out the form on this page.
Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.