Why You May Be Part of a Class Action Lawsuit & Not Know It
A class action lawsuit is a form of lawsuit in which a large group of individuals collectively brings a lawsuit against another party. This group of individuals is generally referred to as “the class”. The class is a group of individuals that have suffered a common injury or injuries – such as medical negligence, workplace issues, environmental issues, or more.
Once the lawsuit is filed, the class has to be certified, which means that the class itself will be established and processes will occur to determine its size and if it meets the requirement for certification.
It is at this point in the process that you may become first aware that you are part of a class. During the certification phase, due process requires that, in most cases, a notice be sent, published, or broadcasted to all class members. That is why you sometimes see articles in the newspaper or advertisements on television.
Sometimes, several notices are required. First, you sometimes receive a notice that you can opt-out of the class (meaning you don’t want to participate or you want to seek your own lawsuit). Second, if there is a settlement, many times a notice is required informing all class members of the proposed settlement, as well as a place to comment.
Many times, you don’t even realize you are part of a class action. Maybe you missed the letters, or thought they were junk mail? Maybe you didn’t see the ad in the paper? Whatever the case, you usually become aware you were part of a class action when the settlement actually comes.
If you ignored the opt-out notices, you stayed in by default. And once it was settled, you were entitled to your share. For most class actions, this is usually an extremely small sum. I know on several occasions, I’ve been part of a class action I didn’t know about only to receive a checks for less than $10. These suits are often negotiated by "no win no fee solicitors", so the biggest part of the settlement usually goes to the lawyers. :)
Second, many companies usually settle to avoid larger monetary settlements later. These early settlements can even include coupons or discounts. For example, a local fast food company that was sued for false advertising settled and gave everyone (since everyone was the class) a free meal coupon.
Searching For Class Action Lawsuits
If you are wondering if you could be in a class action lawsuit, there are several websites that attempt to keep track of the various class action lawsuits that are pending which individuals may be a part of. You can go to sites such as ClassActionLitigation.com or ClassActionWorld.com.
These class action sites attempt to aggregate the various lawsuits that are pending nationwide and give individuals an opportunity to see if they are eligible to be a member of the class. Some of the major suits right now include a group of injury lawyers and football players suing the NFL for head injuries and a group of consumers suing Bank of America for unfair overdraft fees.
Beyond the sites, the best thing to do is just pay attention to the local newspaper or news. Most class action lawsuits make the news, one way or another. So, if you’re staying up to date, you can know if you’re in a class as well.
Good luck Penny Hoarders!