A class action is a lawsuit designed to put the grievances of many potential plaintiffs against one defendant under one umbrella. Usually, class actions are brought on behalf of a group of individuals (the “class”) that have been misled, cheated, defrauded, or injured by a corporation. Not only are class actions usually more efficient than pursuing individual claims, the power of a class action lawsuit is that it gives a group much more clout in addressing their grievances and receive compensation from the defendant.
An example of a class action is when a company makes a product that it advertises to be something that it is not. Those that purchased said product did so under the assumption that the product was what the manufacturer advertised, and as such, have a claim if these advertisements turn out to be false, since a manufacturer has a duty to make accurate statements about the products that they sell. A class action lawsuit would then be filed on behalf of all those that purchased this product seeking compensation to fairly address their claims.
Grouping similar claims into a single class-action lawsuit offers a number of advantages.
First, class-action lawsuits may be more efficient for each participant. Each individual case may tie up the courts for days while drawing on the same evidence; by grouping the many similar cases together in a class-action lawsuit, each piece of evidence will only need to be seen once.
Second, class-action lawsuits can provide an opportunity to prosecute minimal yet widespread harm. In many circumstances, the damage suffered by an individual member of a class action doesn’t justify the expense of litigation. However, by grouping many small claims together, the total value of the class action can make litigation worthwhile.
Third, class-action lawsuits can alter the behavior of industries or other large groups of entities. For example, the plaintiffs in Landeros v. Flood wanted to change the behavior of doctors. Despite existing law at the time of the case, many doctors failed to report potential child abuse. The plaintiffs in Landeros v. Flood hoped to demonstrate that any doctor could face a similar lawsuit if they failed to report potential abuse.
Fourth, class-action lawsuits ensure that all plaintiffs receive equitable compensation. Without a class action, plaintiffs who file early may exhaust the defendant’s resources before other plaintiffs have a chance to file and collect damages.
Last, a class-action lawsuit ensures that defendants won’t be held to multiple and occasionally conflicting judgments. When many individuals pursue a claim against the same entity, the natural variation between trial outcomes may lead to contradictory judgments. In such cases, it can be difficult for a defendant to determine the correct action to take. Courts will often allow a class action to prevent this situation from arising.
The suitability of a class action is dependent upon the case. For example, mass torts are normally not considered appropriate for class-action lawsuits. Although mass torts may be superficially similar, each case revolves around individualized facts instead of group circumstances.
In passing the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, Congress summarized the importance of the class-action lawsuit. By aggregating the legitimate claims of numerous parties, class-action lawsuits allow these plaintiffs to find justice for their shared grievances.