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What exactly is a class action suit?

New York, NY |

I have been asked by Verizon if I want to participate in a class action suit or not. I don't understand what the idea of the class action suit is and how it would-- or would not-- benefit me to be involved.

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Attorney answers 3


Sometimes a group of people are all harmed in the same way. Often, not everyone knows they were harmed, and sometimes the harm is too small to make it worthwhile for one person to bring a case for themselves.

For instance, if a company ripped you for for $25, it is doubtful you would pay a lawyer to bring a suit. But if thousands of people were all ripped off by $25, a class action suit can represent all of those people at once. To do that, one person has to have harms that represent the harm that the rest of the group, or class did.

If the person is successful, then the judge will order that people (like you here with Verizon) be contacted to find out if they want to take part in the judgment. If you do, then you get the benefit - usually money or a discount. You also have the choice to opt-out of the class and bring your own lawsuit, or you can just ignore it.

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A class action is a lawsuit in which relief is sought by one or a few injured individuals on behalf of the entire class of individuals (ordinarily 40 or more) who have suffered the same problem. It is a representative suit in the sense that the plaintiff represents herself as "plaintiff" well as all class members as "class representative."

All class member must share a common issue of fact or law. Class action lawsuits are filed in federal and state courts. The judicial life of a class action is slightly different from a traditional individual lawsuit: just because a person files a class action does not make it an automatic class action. A judge must grant a request for certification for the class action to proceed as representative suit. Judge retain certain powers that are usually not available in individual suits making class actions somehow less desirable to plaintiffs. However, plaintiffs also enjoy several benefit by deciding to file a claim as class action or join one.

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The practical effect of being a member of a class action lawsuit is that you don't need your own lawyer, and will share in the class award. If you "opt out" of the chance to be in the class, then you do have to get your own lawyer to pursue the claim, and while you may ultimately get more money, it would be hard to find a lawyer for class action type claim.

Often class actions combine lots and lots of small claims, often thousands of claims, which are impractical to litigate individually. The class action lawyers stand to gain a lot of fees, but the class members often only get a small amount or a coupon for future purchases, and the resolution often involves a change in the company's policy going forward.

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