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How a Class Action Lawsuit Works

What is a class action lawsuit?

Class action lawsuits are suits that represent a large group of people, or class, who have been injured in the same way or suffered similar harm of some kind. Class action lawsuits make sense when a large number of people have been affected — generally for small damage amounts — and it would be inefficient on the courts for each individual to bring a separate lawsuit against the same entity. Most notably, these lawsuits are brought against large corporations for things like defective products, misrepresentation, employment practices, and to stop harmful practices such as pollution. Generally, a few “lead plaintiffs” file the suit on behalf of everyone affected.


The class must become certified in order to move forward as a class action. “Certified” implies that the court has deemed the class action as being the most appropriate method for moving forward with the case. In order to be certified, there are a series of requirements. These requirements vary by state, but usually include some of the following:

• Generally, there must be enough people for a class action to make sense, meaning there must be too many people for individual lawsuits against the defendant to be practical.
• The claims of those in the class must be similar to other members, and those claims must be what are considered “typical of the class”.
• The plaintiff and class action lawyers must be able protect the class’s interests.


Generally, members of a class are notified about the class action lawsuit through direct mail (when practical) and through publication in the media. Everyone who qualifies for class membership is automatically included in the class. For example, if a class action lawsuit was brought against the manufacturer of a defective product, all those who purchased that product would be members of the class. Most members of the class are not involved in the litigation.


Recoveries for class action lawsuits are divided among members of the class. The attorneys who represent the class are awarded costs and fees by the court, and the court approves the distribution of money to the class members.


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