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What is a Class Action Lawsuit?

In U.S. law, a class action, or a class suit, is a form of a lawsuit whereby a large group of people (the class) collectively bring a suit against one or more defendants. This type of suit originated in the United States.

Class suits may be brought in federal Court, federal district court, or state courts. Where and how they are filed depends on how widely dispersed the members of the class are. In some class suits, the group of people suing is hyper local. While in other suits, the group of people may be stretched across the entire nation.

The procedure for filing a class suit starts with a single plaintiff (the accuser) against an organization or company. The plaintiff is filing on behalf of a proposed “class.” The class is a group of people who have suffered from the same thing, perhaps as a result of a defective product or a service that has harmed a large group of people.

After the plaintiff has filed the initial lawsuit against the defendant (the accused), the plaintiff files a motion to have the suit class certified. If this occurs without incident, a notice of the suit is sent to all members of the class (essentially co-accusers), advising them of the suit and possible outcomes.

People who receive these notices are advised that they have two choices in this lawsuit. They can either participate as part of the proposed class or, if they decline, they have the right to sue the defendant on their own to try to recover damages.

If in-time there is a settlement offer, members of the class will receive a notice informing them of the settlement and how much each member of the class would receive.

In order to meet the federal standards for a class suit, which are in place in about 35 states, the case must meet several characteristics:

1. Commonality

This means that one or more of the factual, or legal, bases for the suit must apply to every person in the class.

2. Adequacy

All parties involved in the suit must protect the interests of the entire class on an equal or adequate basis.

3. Numerosity

The term numerosity refers to a lawsuit being so large that individual lawsuits by each of the defendants would be impractical to conduct because of how time-consuming and costly it would be.

4. Typicality

Typicality, regarding class suits, refers to the claims or the manner in which the suit is being defended as typical or alike.

States that do not follow the federal standards have their own criteria in place for certifying class suits.

Over the years, many businesses have sought to create or sponsor legislation to prohibit class suits, and although some of these pleadings have been heard in courts, this movement has not succeeded.

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