Maybe you have heard about class action lawsuits from friends or neighbors. Or you have received mail informing you that you may have the right to be a part of one. You have probably seen news segments on TV, or the movie “Erin Brockovich?”

Are you still wondering what exactly is the class action lawsuit definition? Take a look at the eight tips below, and why this may be a helpful option for you or someone you know.

1. Injuries from Defective Products or Policies

A class action is when one person or several sue a large entity for injuries sustained by them and a large number of others.

The defendant can be a large corporation or the government.

Famous class action suits include the lawsuit over silicone breast implants, the tobacco suit, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

In all of these cases and many more, numerous people were able to show that the actions of the defendant were negligent and caused them harm.

The damage to the class can also be financial, such as in the Enron scandal.

2. Illegal Actions by Large Powerful Entities

Class action suits arise in cases where an individual injury may not seem huge, but when it is multiplied thousands of times it is very large.

If a defective product hurts one person, that might have been a fluke accident. If thousands of people get hurt by the same product,  that is more indicative of gross negligence on the part of the manufacturer and thus may be grounds for a class-action lawsuit.

Class action lawsuits also give individuals more bargaining power against a large corporation or the government. Many individuals would not have the resources to sue a large company like Exxon.

However, in a class-action suit, they will have stronger bargaining power and will be better able to demand restitution and changes.

3. Affecting Large Numbers of People

To file a class-action lawsuit, you need more than twenty people. Usually, fifty people are deemed sufficient. Some class-action suits involve thousands of plaintiffs, like the tobacco litigation cases.

A group of people must get certified as a class to proceed in a class-action suit. That means they must all share the same cause of action. For example, in the tobacco cases, each plaintiff had to reasonably show that their illnesses were due to tobacco, not from other lifestyle choices.

4. Highly Specialized Lawyers

Lawyers whose practices focus on class actions are usually highly specialized. For example, some law firms only do asbestos litigation. Others focus on medical claims, like Taxotere attorneys.

Attorneys who specialize in case action litigation must be well acquainted with the complex procedures of class action law in addition to the facts about the particular matter. A lawyer who led a successful suit against Enron may not be the perfect lawyer to represent five hundred women in a pelvic mesh case. Financial cases and product liability cases are very different.

5. Power in Numbers 

Some legal scholars, and even members of the Supreme Court, have indicated that they think class actions are getting so large that they lose elements of due process.

However, class actions have become an important tool against institutions so powerful that the individual often has no chance against them. Often, when a company is faced with a massive class action, they’ll agree to a large settlement. The plaintiffs may then divide the settlement amount between them.

Class actions also garner lots of public attention. An individual may not catch the attention of a news reporter with their solitary tale, but a hundred people with the same complaint have much more clout.

6. Agreements to Settle 

Few class action suits go to a jury. Most often, the defendant in a class action will negotiate a settlement, where a sum of money will go to be divided up amongst the class.

Because a jury is more likely to find against a large corporation, companies like to settle. Juries may award even bigger sums.


The settlements may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. However, if the class size is huge, then each plaintiff may not receive a large amount. For example, a recent class action claiming Hyundai inflated its fuel economy numbers settled for $395 million. Each Hyundai owner ultimately received about $350.

7. Can Affect Future Actions 

Besides compensating people for their injuries, class actions can also serve another important function. They can result in large entities like companies or the government stopping their injurious actions.

Class actions have had significant effects on our culture. The tobacco lawsuits were integral to the gradual acknowledgment that cigarettes kill people, causing a reduction in smoking around the world.

Other significant class action suits include Roe v.Wade, the case which established that restricting a woman’s right to choose an abortion violated her constitutional right to privacy; and the Scopes monkey trial, which struck down a law prohibiting the teaching of Darwinian evolution.

Class actions have changed history and protected millions of people from physical, mental and emotional harm in a wide range of situations from education to the workplace to their bodies.

8. Different Billing 

Lawyers who handle class action suits often work under different billing arrangements than lawyers who handle individual litigation. They do not charge hourly.

Usually, a class action attorney will ask for a portion of the final settlement. That amount could total millions of dollars.

Because these lawyers work on contingency, they work very hard for the chance of a large settlement. They may not get paid for their long hours of work for years.

However, if they do win, class action lawyers can win big. Ed Masry, the lawyer in “Erin Brockovich,” walked away with 40% of the settlement, or $133 million.

Class Action Lawsuit Definition: Justice for All

These tips above should clear up any confusion you may still have about the class action lawsuit definition. Understand that if you have been part of a group of people who have been hurt in body or pocketbook by the negligence or illegal conduct or a corporation or the government, you have rights. You may be able to join a class of others seeking justice and change.

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