Understanding Your Rights
Definition of a Class Action
A class action is a procedural device within the legal system that permits one or more persons to sue as representative of a large group of people interested in the matter at issue. The court typically has wide discretion in determining whether the case should proceed on a class wide basis. However, certain requirements must usually be met. For example:
- The class must be so large or dispersed that actual joinder of all individuals would be impractical;
- There must be questions of law and fact common to all members;
- The named plaintiffs and their counsel must adequately represent the interests of the class;
- Certain forms of notice to members of the class, e.g., by newspaper or broadcast publication or by mail or email, are also required; and
- If there is a settlement, the court must approve it to be sure it is fair and reasonable.
In most consumer class action suits, all members of the class are bound by the decision, unless a member of the class opted out of the action at a specified time in the lawsuit.
Criticism and Review of Class Actions
Some members of the public view class action litigation as benefiting the lawyers more than the class members. This image of class actions is often advanced by organizations and large corporations seeking to undermine the ability of consumers and small- and mid-sized business owners to protect themselves against large-scale (but individually small) corporate misconduct. "Without the checks and balances system that the class action provides, unscrupulous corporations would be free to defraud consumers without threat of consequence.
A system dominated by big business is something we cannot afford." states David P. Meyer in response to some negative opinions expressed regarding the class action process. "States' Attorneys General and regulators work hard to protect consumers, but they are often over-worked and under-funded," says Meyer. He continues, "[as] lawyers representing consumers in class action litigation, we serve an important 'private attorney-general' role in America's legal system." Similarly, Matthew R. Wilson states: "Unlike in Europe, where there is a large regulatory apparatus that is charged with ferreting out and prosecuting consumer fraud, here in the United States, private attorneys have a vital and necessary role in policing such misconduct."
It is important for the public to know that before any class action settlements may be implemented, the judge presiding over the case must allow all who wish to state their positions and/or objections to do so, and may approve the settlement, including the attorneys' fees, only if the settlement and fees are fair and reasonable.
At Meyer Wilson, the lawyers and support personnel work hard on every one of our cases to ensure that our clients receive the best possible outcome. The primary goal of the firm is to reach a fair and just remedy for the class as a whole and the firm has consistently performed this service for its clients, as demonstrated by the results.