28 Apr In a Class Action Law Suit? Here’s What You Need to Know
What is a class action lawsuit? How do you know if you are included? What should you do if you already are or think you might be? We’ve all seen the television ads. Perhaps you’ve received an official letter giving the details of an active or potential suit and how you’re involved. Whether you have some skin in the game or are simply curious, here’s what you need to know.
WHAT IS A CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT?
First, a quick explanation of what a class action lawsuit (or CAL) is, and how it works. In any lawsuit, there is a potentially injured or wronged party (known as the plaintiff). The plaintiff seeks retribution for damages possibly caused by the actions of another individual or company (known as the defendant). What sets a CAL apart is that the plaintiffs are a large group. The term “class” means the lawsuit can include and affect hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals.
With that many people and/or groups involved, the stakes can be very high. The process is often long and complicated. Here are four guidelines to keep in mind as you move ahead.
If you have received an official letter informing you that a suit may be, will be, or has been filed, then you already know your status in the complaint. But what if you saw or heard about an issue you think affects you, and haven’t received any notifications? Do a word search for the specific names in the case, which will link you to any firm or firms representing the plaintiffs. They will have information defining who is eligible and what you need to prove in order to be included.
Your next decision is whether to join/remain as part of the plaintiff group. The decision to stay in or “opt out,” requires some careful research. Input from your personal attorney is valuable in this process. For more details on what this might look like, go to “How to Opt Out of a Class Action Lawsuit” at www.wikihow.com.
The factors affecting your ultimate decision vary from case to case, but the end result is the same: if you stay in, you will allow your stake in the issue to be decided, and you are bound by the result. If you opt out, you will receive nothing from that CAL regardless of the outcome. However, you are free to pursue your own interests in the way that you think is best. There may also be mini-variations within these two choices that your attorney will clarify.
If you decide to join or remain in the class action suit, stay informed during the process. On the other hand, prepare for stretches of silence between updates. The public rarely hears about the process, except for brief media sessions in high profile cases. Therefore, the only way to stay current with the proceedings is through the firm or firms representing your plaintiff group, or the settlement administrator once the verdict has been reached.
The frequency of updates varies somewhat from case to case. It will depend on how complex the determination is, but the usual practice is to inform all those involved whenever a substantial development occurs. As a plaintiff, you will have the attorney group or settlement administrator’s contact information. Contact them if you have a question or concern about the process. Even better, ask your attorney to help keep you in the loop. But…
The long pauses between updates are not because nothing is happening or no one has time to talk to you. Remember there are hundreds of steps in a CAL process and very few of them happen quickly. Many times there are multiple law firms, each representing varying numbers of clients, and they must combine all their information and efforts into one cohesive group of plaintiffs with a lead set of attorneys. And that’s even before the trial really gets going!
On average, the majority of class action lawsuits take more than two years. Your case may resolve faster, especially if there are fewer moving parts, the issue in question is fairly simple, or if severe public embarrassment compels the defendant to settle quickly.
However, the opposite is also true: the more the defendant has at stake and the murkier the circumstances are, the longer the legal debate can drag out through multiple adjustments, appeals, and renegotiations. Your attorney will give you an estimate based on his or her experience and the factors involved. Just prepare yourself for a few twists.
Which brings us to the last, and possibly most difficult guideline of the four:
Class action lawsuits exist for two reasons. First, there will always be strength in numbers. Second, when the issue affects a great many people time does not allow for each single plaintiff’s case to be examined and resolved individually. The CAL can provide needed resolution to every person affected. It can also help level the playing field between plaintiff and defendant, especially in a David-and-Goliath type situation.
But there is, unfortunately, a trade-off. All trials cost a lot, but class action lawsuits especially, due to the high stakes, long process, and multiple parties involved. There is always the possibility that if the matter goes to trial, a judge could order a reduced settlement or no money at all. If there is a settlement amount, the legal costs are accounted for first and the remainder is divided equally between the individuals in the plaintiff group.
Legal advice from your attorney is crucial when making the choice to stay in or opt out of a class action lawsuit! Only the two of you together can decide what best matches your needs, current situation, and future plans.
If you do not currently have a legal advocate, or have specific questions about a class action suit and how it affects you, call our offices during normal work hours at (513) 892-3400, email us at email@example.com, or go to our contact page here.
We hope this information was helpful to you, and let us know how we can be of service!