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Class Action Lawsuits: The Basics

You have probably seen countless class action commercials on TV, but how much do you really know? How do they work, and does anyone ever reap the benefits of a class action case?

There are several types of class action cases, but the basic foundation is typically the same. As with any lawsuit, the more guidelines you meet, the better your chances are of having a favorable outcome.

Gavel on desk with grouping of small pegs representing people

What is a Class Action Lawsuit?

An individual lawsuit is one person suing another person or entity for financial compensation. A class action lawsuit involves a group of people who have been negatively impacted by a company’s product or behavior. If the case is successful, all plaintiffs receive compensation owed at the same time.

How Does a Class Action Lawsuit Work?

Because the chances of success increase with the number of plaintiffs, groups of at least twenty or more are recommended. Depending on the claim, defendant, and goal, a larger group may better serve your purpose.

In some situations, the goal is not for financial gain, but to bring attention to the company’s behavior. This can help facilitate real change and prevent the issue from happening again in the future.

Common Types of Class Action Lawsuits

Certain types of injury or damage often affect large groups of people, making them strong candidates for class action. The most common class action claims fall into one of these six categories.

Civil Rights

One of the most well known civil rights class action lawsuits is Brown v. Board of Education. This 1954 landmark case ended racial segregation in schools, and set a precedent for future segregation laws.

More recently, there have been several civil rights class action lawsuits regarding sexual discrimination, and discrimination against people with disabilities.

Dangerous Drugs

Pharmaceutical medications and devices with defects affect incredibly large groups of people in roughly the same time frame. Class action encourages these manufacturers to set higher standards for safer products, and can even save lives going forward.


Class action in the workplace often involves sexual harassment or discrimnation regarding hiring practices, wages, work environment. Winning this type of class action case can lead to better business practices and increased awareness about sensitive issues.


Environmental issues that affect large groups of people include air pollution and water safety, for example. Anderson v. Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the inspiration for “Erin Brokovich”, and the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, are just two cases that affected thousands of people. These victims suffered health problems, job loss, and much more.


Financial cases commonly include banking fraud and misconduct, wherein victims suffer financial loss. In addition to compensation, the goal is to change practices to protect the interests of future clients and partners.

Product Defects

One of the most common types of class action lawsuits, product defects, accounts for a huge portion of claims and settlements. From defective pacifiers to household products and automobiles, product liability cases are about faulty consumer goods we use every day. Successful verdicts include financial compensation for injuries but also stipulate required changes to the products to ensure safety.

If you would like more information, or if you believe you may qualify for a class action lawsuit, speak with your attorney. If you are in need of an experienced class action attorney in Chicago, Zimmerman Law Offices can help. Call or reach out online to schedule your free consultation.


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