What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit is a type of legal claim in which a group of plaintiffs are all represented by an individual (or small number of individuals), known as the class representative or lead plaintiff. Typically, members of a class action lawsuit must all have been harmed in the same way by a defective product or some other actionable offense.

Class action lawsuits are found in every state, but states like California, New York, Florida, New Jersey and Texas tend to have the highest number of class action complaints filed in America. Class actions in U.S. district courts are regulated by federal laws like the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), which allows any class action with damages greater than $5 million to be removed to federal court.

Class Action, Mass Tort and Multidistrict Litigation

A class action is the most well-known type of multi-party litigation in the U.S. federal court system, but there are other ways in which large groups of people can bring cases against one or a few defendants.

Other Types of Aggregate Litigation

Multidistrict LitigationMass Tort
Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a process that allows many plaintiffs to consolidate certain procedural aspects of their lawsuits (such as pretrial motions and evidence discovery) to answer common questions of fact. However, unlike class actions, MDL participants file individual lawsuits, though they may later take part in a consolidated trial or settlement. Many states have a procedures similar to MDLs, such as multicounty litigation or complex litigation.Mass tort refers to any civil action in which many people have been harmed by some kind of personal injury and are suing the manufacturer, distributor, or other responsible party. Examples include a medical device defect, a severe complication from taking prescription medication, or a consumer product malfunction. Mass torts can take the form of either class action lawsuits, MDLs or some other form of consolidation.

Courts have other lawsuit aggregation devices at their disposal for special circumstances, such as permissive or compulsory rejoiners, impleaders, interpleaders, and intervention.

Current List of Top Class Action Lawsuits and MDLs

At any given time, there are many open class action lawsuits and mass tort litigation cases. This list provides some of the top product liability representative actions currently underway with links to more information. It does not include class action lawsuits related to fraud, banking, and retail problems.

Class Action Lawsuit FAQs

Below are answers to some of the most common questions related to class action lawsuits. For questions about specific lawsuits, talk to a class action attorney.

Who Can Join a Class Action Lawsuit?

Class action lawsuits in the United States go as far back as 1820. However, modern class actions are governed by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which lists a number of conditions for certifying a class:

  • There must be so many members that it is impracticable to try each case individually.
  • All plaintiffs in the class must be presenting common questions of law.
  • Representative plaintiffs must make claims typical of other members in the class.

In addition, the lead plaintiffs must agree to represent the interests of all class members.

How Do I Join a Class Action Lawsuit?

In most cases, you do not need to do anything to join a class action lawsuit. Class certification will happen during the preliminary hearings, and part of that certification includes identifying members of the class based on various factors, such as whether you bought a certain product or received a certain type of treatment at a medical center.

After the class is certified, class members will be notified about their inclusion in the lawsuit. This class action notice will provide you with information about the lawsuit’s purpose, who is bringing the lawsuit on your behalf (that is, the lead plaintiff), and why you were included in the class.

If a class action lawsuit settlement is announced, then at that time you may need to submit a claim to receive your share of the settlement. Typically this involves completing a form online or through the postal service. However, it is always good to seek the advice of a lawyer before submitting a settlement claim to understand what rights you may be waiving and whether you could be eligible for additional compensation.

Can I Opt Out of a Class Action Lawsuit?

Generally speaking, it is possible to opt out of a class action lawsuit. However, if you choose to do so, you will not be able to submit a claim for any settlement that might be announced in the future.

One of the primary reasons that people choose to opt out of a class action lawsuit is if they think that they can receive additional compensation beyond what is likely to be included in the class action settlement or verdict. This might include damages beyond what is claimed in the lawsuit, and it usually is related to an individual’s particular situation that may not apply to other members of the class. There is usually an opt-out deadline, after which it is no longer possible to opt out of the lawsuit.

Once you opt out of a class action lawsuit, you generally will not be allowed to opt back in. Therefore, it is important to talk to an attorney to understand your rights and the likely success of bringing your own lawsuit before opting out of the class action.

How Can I Start a Class Action Lawsuit?

In order to file a class action lawsuit in any state or federal court, you must first talk to a lawyer to find out whether your situation is already covered by an existing class action. During your free consultation, your attorney will be able to help you determine if a class action lawsuit is the right way to go, or if there might be a better alternative for your situation, such as an individual lawsuit or MDL.

Some of the considerations that must be made before deciding to file a class action lawsuit include:

  • How many people are included in the class?
  • Do all the class members share common questions of law?
  • Does the lead plaintiff have a legal claim typical of all other class members?

Your lawyer will help you gather evidence and build your case. If it turns out that you do have a unique and valid class action complaint ready to file, then you could be considered the lead plaintiff in the case. As such, when the case is settled, you could be eligible to receive an additional “incentive award” for representing your class before the courts.