Young group of architects discussing business plans.With the recent press on the class action lawsuit for Xarelto blood thinner, it is important to learn how to become involved in class action lawsuits should you wish to join.

Class action lawsuits are just like any other lawsuit, only the plaintiffs are usually very numerous. A consumer class action is a lawsuit brought by one individual, or a few individuals, on behalf of a larger class of people similarly situated. Typically it seeks damages on behalf of the named persons bringing the suit, as well as the members of the “class.” Usually class action lawsuits are based on product liability, which is a theory of law used to protect consumers from dangerous products.

The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 lays out the criteria for cases that fall under federal jurisdiction: Any class action lawsuit in which claims exceed $5 million, as well as any case involving plaintiffs or defendants from many different states. In addition, federal courts can decline to hear cases involving plaintiff classes totaling fewer than 100 people.

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure gives detailed instructions to judges, attorneys, plaintiffs and defendants for conducting a class action lawsuit. Every state has its own rules of procedure for class actions, but they all closely resemble Rule 23.

Certification – The judge must certify the plaintiffs as a class. For this, it must be impractical for plaintiffs to sue individually, they must share a common complaint, and the defendants must share a similar defense for all plaintiffs. This is a very difficult standard to meet.

Defining the class – As part of certification, the judge will define the scope of characteristics of the class, for example, anyone who lived within one mile of the Alaskan coast during the Valdez oil spill.

Notification – The judge will order that all potential plaintiffs be notified of the class action by mail, newspaper advertisements, even TV commercials, depending on how broad the scope of the class.

Opting out – If you fall within the defined scope of the class of plaintiffs, then you are automatically included in the case and bound by the final judgment. If you prefer to file your own lawsuit, however, then you can opt out of the class action.

Appointing counsel – In class actions, the judge selects representative counsel for the plaintiffs. In most cases, it is the lawyer who filed the case, but it’s the judge’s responsibility to make sure he or she is experienced in class action proceedings, is highly knowledgeable in the particular subject area, and will fairly represent the class.

Distribution of damages – The judge will develop a plan with the plaintiffs’ attorney for distributing any monetary damages won in the case. Even if the case is settled, the judge must approve the settlement. The judge also has a say in how much the attorneys are paid.

If you receive a notice to opt out of a class action, read the papers carefully; they will explain the terms of the settlement, and the choices you have. Usually, a toll-free number or Web site address is provided in case you have questions, or you may want to consult an attorney about your rights, especially if you believe you have a lot of money at stake.

If you have any questions about a class action lawsuit, contact the experienced class action attorneys at Smiley Law today.

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Seth Smiley
Seth is an attorney licensed to practice in Louisiana and California. He is the owner and lead attorney at Smiley Law Firm. To speak with Seth fill out the form on this page.
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