Have you ever seen the news about a big lawsuit and realized the harm applied to you? Have you ever wondered how someone becomes part of a class action lawsuit? In this article we cover all the basics.
How does one join a class action lawsuit?
Well, you don’t really. If you have been defined as a member of a class, and you do absolutely nothing, that’s it. You’re in the class. However, if you do choose to do nothing, you’ll generally forfeit the right to bring your own case against the plaintiff at a later date. You will be bound by the class action’s judgment, whatever that might be.
How do you find out about a class action suit?
Typically, you’ll receive a letter in the mail or an email notifying you that you may be affected by a class action lawsuit. For products purchased at a store, the company will likely have a record of your purchase, which can help identify you as a member of a class. Other times, you may only find out about a class action suit in the news or newspaper, on TV, or in a magazine.
How can I start a class action lawsuit?
There are a few requirements for bringing a class action suit. For one, you must be yourself a member of the class. Importantly, it cannot be too difficult to figure out who the other members of a class actually are. In fact, one of the requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (which defines class actions), or one of the implied requirements according to various rulings, is the “ascertainability” of the class. That is, the group of people affected must be, according to the Third Circuit of Appeals in Carrera v Bayer Corp., “currently and readily ascertainable based on objective criteria.” The onus is on the plaintiff to provide evidence to meet this standard.
Rule 23 also stipulates a few prerequisites more explicitly:
- The class must be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.” How many people is that you may ask? Well, there have been instances where a class consisted of only 10 people–in Rose v. City of Hayward (1981), for instance.
- “There are questions of law or fact common to the class,” such that the class can be treated as a coherent group with respect to the lawsuit, identify the same set of predominant issues, etc.
- The claims of the representatives of the class must be “typical” of the members.
- The representatives must “adequately and fairly protect the interests of the class.”
How do you get paid?
Once the case gets settled, you’ll likely get another notice which will detail the steps you’ll need to take to get your share. You will likely have to submit a claim of some kind, often through the mail or online.
Sometimes, you’ll be required to provide some amount of proof–perhaps a receipt. Other times, you won’t. The settlement, if there is one, will be divided up between class members, with a good chunk of the money going to pay legal fees. For big class action suits, even with big dollar amounts, the checks may not be for all that much. Those that find their way into the mailboxes of individual class members can sometimes be for amounts as small as a quarter. But hey, a win is a win.
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