A class-action lawsuit is a civil action in which people who have been wronged in a similar way unite and sue as a group. You may start a class action if you feel you and many others have been harmed in a similar way, or you may receive a notice that a class-action lawsuit has been started relating to some harm you may have suffered.

Facts about class actions

The court must certify that a class of harmed people exists for the class action to move forward. Anyone who was harmed in the way described in the lawsuit is considered part of the class action, and is entitled to a share of any money won in the lawsuit.

It is essential to get an attorney specializing in class actions in order to pursue a class-action lawsuit. The attorneys for these complicated cases are generally paid out of any settlement funds won in the lawsuit. There are no guarantees that a class-action lawsuit will be won, or that any substantial money will be available to the many individuals who may be involved in the suit.

Types of class actions

There are many categories of class-action lawsuits. Common types include:

  • Securities class actions—holders of public-company stock feel the company withheld information or lied about its operations or future prospects

  • Product defect/liability | personal injury—users of a particular product (i.e., breast implants) feel they were harmed by the product

  • Personal injury claims | employee benefits—a group of employees or consumers were injured at work, or when visiting a place such as a store or amusement park

  • Consumer fraud actions | consumer product claims—users of a product feel the product's makers made false claims about its effectiveness

  • Discrimination claims and benefits—workers in a religious or ethnic minority feel they were all discriminated against by the same employer

If you receive a class-action notice

If you are part of the class in a class-action lawsuit, you may receive a settlement notice in the mail, also known as a "notice and proof of claim form." You are not obligated to participate. If you think you should have received a notice but did not, you can write the claims administrator for your case to request one.

If there is a settlement in your class-action lawsuit, you may elect to take the settlement, do nothing, or ask to be excluded from the class and file suit on your own. It may take a year or more for settlement claims to be processed. You may want to consult your own attorney about your options.

Additional resources:

Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse

Class Action World (class-action basics)

Federal Judicial Center (studies of class-action lawsuits)

Related Legal Guides:

Statute of Limitations for Lawsuits

Filing an Appeal