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How do class-action lawsuits help plaintiffs win cases?
Big lawsuits for many plaintiffs
One plaintiff might not receive a large award for an injury, just because of the way the court system is designed. For whatever reason, a jury might not deem the case worthy of high damages – especially when the claim is against a corporation or pharmaceutical company.
This is why a lot of plaintiffs, working together, can change the system and keep things from reverting to “David v. Goliath.” Companies fear the strength that comes from numbers.
Many people toss around terms like “class-action suit” and “multidistrict litigation” interchangeably. Let’s stick to class-actions for now and discuss what they are.
The class-action lawsuit
Class-action lawsuits have a single lawyer in charge of proceedings. There is one case before one jury. At the end, there is one verdict by which all the plaintiffs in the class are bound.
By “class,” we mean that all members of a class are essentially treated as one plaintiff. A representative sues on behalf of that class, all of whom have suffered a similar mass tort – or a mass injury. If the court permits the case to proceed, the class is then deemed “certified.”
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (rule 23) state the following in regard to class-actions:
- The class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
- There are questions of law or fact common to the class;
- The claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of that class; and
- The representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
If individual claims involve the same product or defect, but are not allowed to proceed as a class-action, this would fall into the category of multidistrict litigation, or an MDL. These save plaintiffs both time and money because pre-trial proceedings are consolidated for efficiency’s sake.
In a class-action suit, even plaintiffs who aren’t named in the lawsuit can later participate in the case. Oftentimes these companies will mail customers a flier that notifies them of the case and how they can join in the award.
The court’s decision is binding upon all plaintiffs, which means the award will be split among everybody involved. If you have suffered a personal injury or a wrongful death, an MDL would be a better option for you because those losses are usually sufficient on their own.
What to look for in a class-action attorney
Class-action suits are usually not the first choice for attorneys; MDLs are far more flexible and allow for individual awards. Why split a class-action award if you can get your own? If you think your case is something that many other people have (a side effect from medications, a defective product, etc.), then your case will likely qualify for one of these methods of litigation. However, only an experienced attorney can tell you which one.
If you need someone to help you, check out some of the articles below and speak with some of the attorneys listed in Enjuris. They will be able to assist you.
Resources to help you hire the best lawyer
- How damages are calculated
- Choosing a personal injury attorney – interview questions
- Preparing to meet with a personal injury attorney
- Negotiating lawyers’ fees - how do accident lawyers charge? Are there any hidden costs?
- When do you NOT need an attorney after an accident?
- How to talk to a lawyer
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.