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Class Actions - A Primer

Posted by attorney Steven Fahlgren

I often hear people joke about class actions. They hear about some case where the consumer received coupons and the lawyers received millions. Although there are abuses, they are the exception rather than the rule. Class actions are designed for a group of people who are treated the same to seek relief as a group. Instead of each person hiring an attorney, they pool their resources by hiring one firm or a team to handle their case.

After a class action is filed, the judge will need to determine if the case is one which should be certified as a class actions. This requires a large enough group of people and one or more class representatives, who are individuals who will look out for the interests of the class. The class representatives must be typical of the class and must have adequate representation. If all of the elements are established, a judge will certify the class. That ruling may or may not be appealed, but ultimately if the class remains certified, there is one trial or resolution that is binding on the entire class.

The benefits of a class action can be enormous. For example, in a recent case handled by my office with another attorney, we were able to sue for class wide relief and obtained almost $1.5 million worth of relief for consumers. The costs to the consumers was $30,000 from start to finish which was paid for by the wrongdoer.

This was a case where the consumer came to my office for help, had been sued and we were able to turn the tables and put some money in the consumer’s pocket as well as into the pockets of other class members. Interestingly, most of the other class members were ignorant of their rights or did not have the funds or access to counsel to vindicate those rights. Fortunately, the actions of the class representatives ensured that the corporation did not get away with its unlawful actions.

Someone once said there was a sucker born every minute. Unfortuantely, there are those who will still prey on people who do not have the time, resources, or knowledge to fight. Class actions can level the playing field. This is why corporations are continually on the fight to stop them. Interestingly, those same corporations find them useful when their own ox is gored. As exhibit A, one needs only to point to Wal-Mart which challenged the policies of Visa for charging high debit card fees. Wal-Mart and other retailers ultimately settled for about $2 billion.

Class actions can be useful. If numerous people are victimized the same way, even if there are only hundreds of dollars involved, the net effect to consumers can quickly add up where thousands of consumers are affected. With class actions, you can sometimes get a limousine ride on a Yugo budget. If you have any questions about class actions or anything else that you want discussed, please email Steve Fahlgren at Steve Fahlgren is a local attorney who practices law out of his offices in Hilliard.

Disclaimer: The above Article is intended to give you, the consumer, insight into various legal topics. This information is not intended as legal advice, but rather helpful topical information.

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