What Distinguishes A Class Action From Other Legal Cases?
In the world of law, class actions represent a specific set of civil cases where a group of people seeks some sort of remedy. This is different than most civil suits because it allows a class actions lawyer to create pressure against a defendant by massing the complaints into a single case.
However, there's a lot more that distinguishes class actions than just collecting a bunch of plaintiffs. This article examines how the work of a class actions attorney differs from other civil proceedings.
Unity of the Class
It's worth noting that a class action isn't just a group of people ganging up on a defendant. The group must have at least one legally recognizable characteristic that unifies its members.
Suppose a class actions lawyer pursues a case against the manufacturer of a weed killer with a product that allegedly causes cancer. The unifying features of the class are at least two-fold. First, the plaintiffs suffered harm from the product. Second, they all used products from the specific defendant, usually a company in that sort of case.
The main argument for joining a class action is that it provides collective power. If a defendant tries to take the case to trial against several hundred plaintiffs in a class, the defense faces the risk that a jury will render a gigantic judgment.
Similarly, this provides an incentive to the defendant. If they settle the case with the class, then all of those plaintiffs' claims are done in one shot.
Another advantage is that you can try to grow the class before seeking a settlement. A class actions attorney will frequently use records to track down affected people. The lawyer can then send letters to them explaining what the class action is about and how they can join.
Ideally, more people join and bring greater pressure against the defendant. The best-case scenario is the story gets traction with a news organization, applying even more pressure on the defense to settle.
Distribution of Proceeds
A typical civil case involves one plaintiff, and all of the proceeds of the settlement or judgment go to that party and their counsel. In a class action case, the plaintiffs have to distribute the proceeds. This imposes a significant administrative burden.
The plaintiffs who invite others to join a class accept a duty to distribute the proceeds according to an agreement. Class members sign onto this agreement when they join. A class actions attorney then has to see that the various members get their piece of the settlement or judgment.