Updated August 25, 2022

What Is a Class Action Lawsuit? How to Join Class Action Claims

Class Action Lawsuits in Indianapolis

It is not uncommon for more than one person to be the victim of a corporation’s negligence. Just as there are legal processes to help claimants recover the compensation they deserve, there are also processes in place to help groups pursue damages. 

You may have heard about class action lawsuits in the news when pharmaceutical drugs cause injuries or major corporations experience a data breach. But what exactly is a class action lawsuit?

What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit is a type of legal claim that the plaintiff pursues on behalf of a similarly situated group of individuals. More often than not, the defendant will be a larger company or corporation. There is only one lawsuit filed by a class representative on behalf of the class members, regardless of the degree of harm suffered by each claimant. The claims are heard by one single court.

A class action lawsuit may result from any type of mass injury caused by a negligent party. Class action rewards are typically associated with defective products such as cars, medical devices, or drugs. Corporate misconduct and consumer and security fraud can also be a motive for pursuing damages as a group. 

How Class Action Lawsuits Work?

Class action lawsuits are brought by one or more people who represent a larger group of people who have all been harmed in a similar way and have a similar legal claim against a defendant. These lawsuits are pursuable in both state and federal courts.

Depending on the type of class action lawsuit filed, class members—everyone who is involved in the lawsuit— may be notified and have the option to opt-in or out. In most cases, you will not need to actively opt-in, you will simply be notified that you are a part of the suit. Members do not have to take part directly in the lawsuit and are not involved in settlement decisions. If you have opted in, however, you will be compensated when the settlement is awarded.

If monetary damages are secured, the court decides how to distribute the recovery among the lead plaintiffs, attorneys, and class members.

Benefits of a Class Action Lawsuit

There are several benefits to pursuing a class action lawsuit, the biggest of which might be that they allow a group of plaintiffs to pursue lawsuits even when each claim is a negligible amount. Other benefits include efficiency because the lawsuit is determined once in court instead of several lawsuits brought before several judges. Additionally, both costs and recovery are spread across plaintiffs, making the likelihood of financial recovery higher. 

Drawbacks of a Class Action Lawsuit

Class action lawsuits are not without drawbacks. The most significant downside is that class members cannot control the lawsuit and cannot make settlement decisions. When you opt-in to a class action lawsuit—or when you are automatically in and don’t opt-out—you forfeit your ability to file a personal claim. This means you could receive less than you would if filing an individual claim, and have no control over the specific details of the lawsuit. A class action lawsuit might not be the best option if you feel that you suffered more than other members of the group and could obtain more compensation through an individual lawsuit.

Class action legislation is also still subject to change, so it’s important to speak with an attorney trying to file a claim.

Starting a Class Action Lawsuit

If you would like to begin a class action lawsuit or join an ongoing one that pertains to you, you will need to consult a lawyer. That lawyer will guide you through the settlement process and help you file a claim with the court. If you are bringing the lawsuit, your lawyer must request that the court certify potential plaintiffs in a class. 

A class action lawsuit will involve one individual acting as a “lead plaintiff” or class representative. The court appointed this person to act as the voice for the rest of the group. The lead plaintiff plays a much more active role in the case and has the following responsibilities:

  • Hiring an attorney 
  • Working with the attorney 
  • Acting as the public face of the lawsuit
  • Determining whether or not to take the offered settlement

Upon conclusion of the class action trial, the class representative can recover additional compensation from the court. 

How to Join a Class Action Lawsuit

Joining a class action lawsuit is easy and sometimes unnecessary. If you are determined to fall within the scope of the claim, you will be notified by mail or email that it is moving forward. At this point, you can choose to remain in by doing nothing or opt-out by responding that you would like to be removed. 

You should check your local legal notices in the paper or online, if you think you may be a class member in a class action lawsuit but was not notified. There is often a website dedicated to a specific class action. You can browse the site or contact the attorney(s) in charge of the suit to inquire about getting involved. 

Class Action Lawsuit Requirements

Before a class action lawsuit can begin, the certification process must occur. This is where the lawyer proves that the case deserves to be more than an individual claim. To fit the criteria of a class action lawsuit, attorneys must show the following characteristics:

  • The group of claimants is so large that it would be “impracticable” to join them in one lawsuit.
  • Each of the claimants involved shares a common “question of law or fact,” implying that they are based on the same legal issue. 
  • Named plaintiffs––the class representatives––have similar or the same claims as the rest of the claimants, and all possible defenses would be very similar or the same.
  • Lead plaintiffs can adequately represent the claims of all class members, and the hired law firms are being fair to the clients. 

Victims of a class action lawsuit are sometimes unaware of the harm that has been done to them. The Notice of Class Action sent out by mail or email helps gather a larger group of individuals. It typically requires at least a few dozen class members to make a legitimate claim. 

For noteworthy class action lawsuit examples, see Consumer Action’s database.

Recoverable Damages From Class Action Claims

There will be only one financial settlement in a class action lawsuit. If the lawsuit is successful, all class members will receive equal compensation. Specific benefits cannot be assigned due to the large number of people covered. Instead of compensating each individual for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and so on, one large sum is offered that is proportional to the negligence displayed by the defendant. 

If you believe the reward is inadequate to cover the injuries or difficulties you sustained, you may want to opt-out and file a personal injury claim. You can receive compensation for a variety of different benefits if you file an individual personal injury claim.

Contact an Indianapolis lawyer to discuss your legal options. 

Class Action Lawsuits vs. Mass Tort Lawsuits

Mass tort lawsuits are not the same as class action lawsuits. In class action lawsuits, the total damages are divided equally among all those who the defendant wronged. If 1,000 people sued for $100,000, each person would get $100. 

Everyone in a mass tort lawsuit receives individualized benefits based on the harm they suffered. If one person suffers more severe consequences as a result of a recalled drug than another, compensation amounts will be proportionate to that fact.

Contact an Attorney Today

Class action lawsuits are not like personal injury cases; you will need the assistance of an experienced attorney if you hope to recover compensation for a large group. Additionally, the company or corporation you challenge may be powerful enough to fight back with a solid defense. They may even have their own legal team for deflecting and minimizing lawsuits. 

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of another person’s negligence, contact a lawyer from Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.669.9983 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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