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What makes class action lawsuits better?

Pearl City, HI |

If i wanted to sue, individually would my amount for damages be more if i won?

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Attorney answers 5


You ask an extremely general question, so I can only provide a generalized response.

Class action lawsuits are neither better nor worse to individual lawsuits -- they are different.

If you have a car accident and sustain injuries as a result, the claims you would have would be unique to you and you alone. As such, an individual lawsuit would be the most efficient way to address your particular legal claims.

On the other had, there are some wrongs that happen in the same manner to a large group of people. Because such claims are virtually identical and involve hundreds or thousands of people, it is more efficient to litigate those claims collectively rather than on an individual basis. The class action mechanism under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, was designed to address those types of claims.

As an example, say that there is a national health club chain that operate 500 gyms, and this club uses a form contract for all of its members coast-to-coast. If that contract had a misleading and deceptive provision that causes every member who signs it to incur one additional month's dues ($30) than they wish to pay for, it makes sense to treat that case as a class action. It would be impractical for any individual member to sue to recover one month's dues because it is not economically feasible for a lawyer to take on a case involving such a small sum of money. But on a class wide basis, such claims would involve millions of dollars. Thus, it is more efficient to bring a single class action lawsuit to recover the $30 on behalf of each member of the class than to have thousand of little lawsuits.

Legal Information is Not Legal Advice My answer provides information about the law based on the limited information provided in the questions asked and is not intended to provide legal advice or opinions, and does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. The answer to the question is for educational and informational purposes only. The law differs in each jurisdiction and may be interpreted or applied differently depending on the jurisdiction or situation. Accordingly, I highly recommend that you consult with an attorney to discuss the details of your problem so you can get legal advice tailored to your particular circumstances.


Great question. As noted by the attorney above - individual lawsuits are different from class action lawsuits. However, there are certain circumstances where you may be able to either file an individual case for damages -- OR -- serve as a representative or member of a class action. I have counseled clients on this very issue and question before. To answer whether the potential damages in your case specifically would be better served as an individual case or class action, I would need to know the facts of your case. Please feel free to conact me directly.

By way of example, I was investigating a case against the manufacturer of a heating pad that malfunctioned. One client had a malfunctioning heating pad that caused him very severe burns and required a lengthy hospital stay. As a member of a class action for a defective heating pad, the client would likely receive damages for the value of the heating pad (roughly $30), whereas, if the client filed an individual case, his damages could be potentially much higher because of his signigicant and severe injuries - that were not typical of the injuries of the class. The legal issues are much more involved than one can answer in the space provided here, but I encourage you to contact an attorney to explore your options.


I have frequently encountered the misconception among laypersons that a class action suit is what you bring when there is more than one plaintiff. That's not so. A class action suit is what you bring when there are so many plaintiffs that it would impracticable to have each of them bring a separate lawsuit. A dozen plaintiffs doesn't make a class action, that's just a regular lawsuit with a dozen plaintiffs. But a THOUSAND plaintiffs, all of whom suffered the same or similar harm from the acts or omissions of some legally responsible defendant or set of defendants, arising out of a nucleus of operative fact common to all of the plaintiffs, THAT makes for a class action.

Not legal advice, just general information.


You have already got sound advice. Unfortunately, for a broad question like this, the answer is going to have to be "it all depends" or something like that. But let me add an additional consideration. Class actions can be long-running, complicated lawsuits, and there are many instances when the plaintiffs and members of the plaintiff class have had to wait many years before getting any monetary compensation or other relief. Again, "it all depends," but simpler can be better and faster, and bringing and prosecuting an individual lawsuit is very likely to be simpler and faster than bringing and prosecuting a class action over the same harm.


Many times, class actions are not better than individual cases. Potential class members are given the opportunity to "opt out" of a lawsuit. Sometimes, it makes more sense to "opt out," so that you can file a lawsuit for yourself. In fact, a class action will "toll," (stop) the statute of limitations from running. The class action law firm may also have developed the facts of the case so that, in your individual lawsuit you may get access to the facts.
Class attorneys have an incentive to settle cases, as they often are paid a percentage of the total amount received. Many times, the class attorneys will be paid their attorneys fees at hundreds of dollars an hour, and the class they are representing will, individually, receive either no monetary compensation or pennies on the dollar. It might make sense for you to consult an attorney to see whether you want to join a class, or opt out -- or whether it makes more sense to pursue a case as a class action or an an individual action.