A class action suit is a lawsuit that includes a group of people. The group can be suing an individual or another group of people. The idea of a class action is predominantly an American phenomenon, although, in other countries, consumer groups are bringing claims on behalf of consumers.
Most class action cases are filed in federal court, under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 23 and 28 USCA §1332(d). Federal courts have original jurisdiction in cases where the damages exceed $5,000,000 and meet any of the following requirements:
• The class of plaintiffs is citizen of a different state than the defendant
• The class of plaintiffs is a foreign state or citizen
• The class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a state and the defendant is a foreign state or citizen.
Class action suits are normally consolidated in pre-trial through a process called multidistrict litigation (MDL). Class action suits are very complex and require a team of attorneys. However, class action suits are possible on a national basis if there are common issues across states lines. In general, federal courts tend to favor defendants, while state courts are more sympatric to plaintiffs.
What is a “Class”
When filing a class action suit, one, or several of the plaintiffs in the class are named in the complaint, on behalf of the entire class. There can be thousands of plaintiffs in a class action suit. The class must be made up of people who have suffered a common injury due to a particular product defect, misrepresentation, or policy.
When the complaint is filed, the plaintiff must file a motion to certify the class. In most cases, this requires documentation through discovery to determine the size of the class and the requirements for the class. The defendant(s) will most likely oppose the class action by questioning if the plaintiffs named actually represent the class.
Advantages of Class Action Suits
One of the advantages is that one case represents a large number of plaintiffs lowering the cost of the lawsuit. It also avoids the repetitive nature of individual cases, forcing the witnesses to testify over and over again. Another advantage for the plaintiffs is that the compensation for the injuries is not piece meal; all plaintiffs receive some compensation, even if it is very little. In many ways, a class action suit is symbolic. If all of the cases were tried separately, some would be lost, creating conflicts with the court and case law. The real power in a class action suit is that it sends a resounding message to the defendant, that their activities need to change.
Class action suits are valuable in stopping abuse and injury to consumers. Consumers buy prescriptions drugs, imported products, and utilities. The companies that sell, distribute, and profit from consumers, need to be sent a message when they become exploitive. It requires attorneys that are highly skilled to successfully organize and succeed in class action cases. Plaintiffs in class action cases are comforted in the fact that they are changing the standards for the better for all consumers.