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What Is a “Class Action” Lawsuit?
There seems to be a common misconception about what a “class action” lawsuit is and who is involved. Often, people believe that if there are a lot of plaintiffs, it is by nature, a “class action.” That is not the case. A class action lawsuit is one in which one person, or a handful of people, represent a much larger class or category of people in a lawsuit against a defendant to obtain compensation for the entire class, or to force corrective measures. The “class” itself can be any conceivable category, but it is usually “customers” of the company that’s being sued. The named plaintiffs are known as the “class representatives” and often have little actual involvement in the lawsuit. A good example of a case that is commonly thought of as a class action, but was not, is the famous “Erin Brockovich” case in which 650Hinkley,Calif., residents sued Pacific Gas & Electric for contaminating their drinking water. That was a direct action, i.e., 650 named plaintiffs suing PG&E directly. The importance of a class action to potential plaintiffs is that if a person is identified as being a part of the class, has received notice of the action, and chooses to opt-out, then that person must file their own costly direct action if they wish to pursue it. Otherwise, being part of a class action can help minimize the cost (in time and money) to the class members while still addressing their issues.
The information contained herein is not, nor is it intended to be, specific legal advice and although deemed to be accurate, you should not rely on it without consulting an attorney.