what is a class action lawsuit?

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A class action lawsuit is a legal suit filed against a defendant by a group of individuals with a common interest who may not be able to pursue individual cases.

Who Can File a Class Action Lawsuit?

To successfully pursue a class action lawsuit within Wisconsin, the class must meet the following criteria:

  • The class is too large to file another form of lawsuit.
  • The class has a common interest with respect to the facts and laws of the case.
  • The class representatives’ claims accurately reflect other class members’ experiences.
  • The representative is capable of fairly protecting and pursuing the entire class’s interests.

If certified, the plaintiff (the class representative) will move forward with the case on behalf of all class members.

Mass tort actions or an MDL (multi-district legislation) are similar to class action lawsuits in some respects. However, they follow slightly different procedural rules. Pursuing a tort or MDL lawsuit may make more sense if individuals suffered a wide range of injuries or if several jurisdictions play a role in the case.

Class Action Lawsuit Examples

Types of class action lawsuits include:

  • Employment Class Action: Cases where several employees experience the same employment law violation such as overtime violations, discrimination, and other cases affecting a large group of people. 
  • Consumer Class Action: Cases where hundreds or even thousands of consumers have been cheated by a bank, lender, or other corporation. 
  • Defective Products: Cases involving a defective product, like defective Takata airbags or hoverboards. 
  • Accidents: Cases involving a large, single accident, such as an airplane, bus or train crash.
  • Civil Rights Class Action: Cases involving a large group of people whose civil rights were violated.

Benefits of Joining in a Class Action Lawsuit

Class action lawsuits are beneficial if:

  • Many people suffered a similar type of harm.
  • A class action lawsuit is the only option for fair compensation based on the size of an individual claim and the cost of litigation versus settlement returns. Some claims are too small to file on an individual basis.
  • Some users want to opt-out of the class action filing. If you were not harmed or if you want to pursue an individual action against the defendant, you can opt out of the class action. You cannot file an individual lawsuit if you agree to the terms of the class action.
  • Multiple people have the same claim but a better chance of securing a fair outcome together. For example, if one person files a claim because of a mislabeled product, it may not go anywhere. On the other hand, if 1,000 people have the same claim, they have a better chance of securing a fair outcome.
  • The suit allows consumers and groups of people to enact meaningful change. Often, class action litigation initiates change in large corporations for improved safety and practices.

While these cases can take time to resolve, they are often the most efficient way to handle certain legal matters.

What to Do If You’re Involved in a Class Action Lawsuit

Once a class action is certified, the court will order that individuals impacted receive a notification. Typically, this is done through direct mail, email, or other media. In many cases, impacted individuals are automatically included in the case, although someone can also choose to opt out.

Typically, only the lead plaintiff or plaintiffs work directly with the class action attorneys. Other individuals do not have to take part in the case unless they have evidence to offer.

the end of a class action lawsuit, the court must approve any settlement and division of recovered funds. The court must also approve the attorneys’ fees and costs.

Breanne L. Snapp

Breanne Snapp is an associate at the firm’s Madison office where her primary practice includes class action work. Breanne has represented thousands of employees across the country in their claims for unpaid wages and overtime.  

Breanne received her J.D., cum laude, Order of the Coif, from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she also earned a certificate in Consumer Health Advocacy. Breanne received a B.S. in Biochemistry and Psychology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In her free time, Breanne enjoys yoga and spending time with friends and family. She lives in Madison with her husband and their cat.

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