Starting a class-action lawsuit can be an efficient way to relieve multiple victims of the same bad actor.
There is often safety when a group acts as a unified front, and a class-action suit can be a less stressful way for multiple employees to stand up to an unscrupulous employer.
While this kind of lawsuit is an effective litigation tool, it doesn’t apply to every legal issue with multiple victims.
So, what is a class-action lawsuit, and how does someone start one? We can answer those questions and many more in this article.
What Is a Class-Action Lawsuit?
When you think of a traditional civil lawsuit, you probably think about one harmed party (or plaintiff) suing one defendant for the harm they caused.
If more than one person suffers harm because of a defendant’s actions, sometimes the plaintiffs can ask the court to join their cases into one lawsuit.
If there are enough plaintiffs who suffer harm at the hands of the same defendant, one plaintiff can file a class-action lawsuit to represent the group.
In a class-action lawsuit, one person typically starts a lawsuit to win legal relief on behalf of many others whom the defendant hurt.
For example, this type of lawsuit can help groups of employees who don’t receive adequate pay or breaks or suffer unlawful employment discrimination under the law.
In general, all harmed parties share the court award if the person who initiated the lawsuit wins.
How Do Class-Action Lawsuits Work?
Do you want to know how to start a class-action lawsuit? We can help you with the basics.
Usually, a class-action lawsuit starts like a typical lawsuit.
One plaintiff files a regular civil lawsuit against a defendant for their harmful acts.
Once they file the lawsuit in civil court, the plaintiff can then ask the court to certify a class of multiple plaintiffs who would be entitled to share proceeds from a favorable court judgment.
If the court certifies a class of plaintiffs for a lawsuit, all potential class members receive notice about the lawsuit.
On the lawsuit notice, class members typically receive information about how they can opt out of the class.
Normally, you’re automatically in the class until you actively decline. This notice also comes with a deadline for opting out.
Potential plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits who join (or remain in) the class waive their right to file a separate lawsuit against their defendant, but they also retain the right to collect court or settlement award money without having to participate in the trial.
After sending proper notices, the attorney and the plaintiff who filed the complaint represent all the class members’ interests at trial or in settlement negotiations.
If there’s a settlement, the representative plaintiff and their attorney have to ask the court for approval of the settlement.
If the plaintiff wins, class members receive notice about their entitlement to award money/benefits and how to file a claim.
Requirements for a Class-Action Lawsuit
Although you and others might have suffered harm at the hands of one defendant, that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to start a class action lawsuit.
There are a lot of requirements and procedural bars to satisfy. The court has to certify your class first.
When deciding whether to “certify” a class of plaintiffs in California, the court is looking for:
- A case involving so many plaintiffs that it’s impracticable to have them all come before the court; and
- A case where all of the plaintiffs’ damages come from the same incident or series of transactions caused by the defendant.
There are slightly different criteria when you start a federal class-action lawsuit.
When deciding whether to certify a class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, the court looks for:
- A case where the group of plaintiffs is so numerous that regular joining of plaintiffs is impracticable;
- A case where the facts or legal questions involved apply to all class members;
- Claims of the representative plaintiff that are typical for all members of the class; and
- A case where the representative plaintiff can adequately and fairly represent the interests of the whole class.
Figuring out whether your case is eligible for class-action treatment depends on many specific facts.
Before moving forward, it’s often best to have an experienced attorney decide whether your case is appropriate for a class action.
How Much Money Do You Get from a Class-Action Lawsuit?
The awards or settlements in class-action lawsuits can be worth millions or billions. Of course, these numbers don’t apply in every case.
The amount the defendant has to pay in your class-action lawsuit depends on the specific facts of your case.
Classes can be large, so class members might receive only a small percentage of the settlement or trial award.
But the lead plaintiff—typically the one who initiated the class action— gets a larger share.
And class-action lawsuit attorneys don’t require payment from their clients because they take a percentage of anything they win for the entire class.
So while each plaintiff’s share of the award money might be on the smaller side, the plaintiffs don’t need to pay attorney fees; the money they win comes without cost to them.
Also, sometimes you can receive injunctive relief in a class-action lawsuit. This means that the court can order the defendant to take active steps to stop harming you.
Our Attorneys at Workplace Rights Law Group Can Lead the Way in Class-Action Employment Lawsuits
Fighting an employer for your rights can be intimidating. But there is safety in numbers, and there is safety when you have a seasoned professional on your side.
We also know how to win big. Our firm has won millions of dollars for our clients.
We also stay focused on understanding and serving each client’s unique needs. Don’t take mistreatment from a bad employer.