Class action lawsuits are often formed when many people sue the same party for similar wrongs. These lawsuits take their name from the “class” – a defined group of people who are part of the lawsuit. A class can number in the dozens or in the thousands, as long as the members have enough in common to fit inside one lawsuit. All classes must be certified by a court. Certification requires a number of legal conditions to be met.
Once the class is certified, all potential class members are notified of the lawsuit. Anyone in the class can then “opt in” or “opt out” of the class action lawsuit – meaning they may choose to join or not to join the suit. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. Each person should consider their situation before making a decision.
Opting in allows class members to share in the outcome of a class action lawsuit. This may include money in the form of compensatory damages and punitive damages. Class members are kept informed about the class action lawsuit by the class’s lawyers and may take steps to protect their interests. The tradeoff to opting in is that class members are bound by the result of the class action lawsuit – they cannot sue over the same thing twice.
Opting in generally costs class members nothing. Oftentimes, the class’s lawyers pay for the costs of the lawsuit and receive their fees only if it succeeds. There are also legal safeguards protecting the interests of class members. Normally the court must approve any settlement reached. Any class member may object to a settlement, and potentially may opt out after a settlement.
Opting out of a class action lawsuit tends to be an individual decision. Some individuals may want to pursue their own lawsuit. Class action lawsuits ensure that everyone receives something. However, that means the recovery for each individual can be relatively small. As a result, those who have suffered more severe injuries may be better off filing their own lawsuit.
There are a number of other reasons why people may have reservations about joining a class action lawsuit. Class members tend to have little control over the case and limited contact with the class’s lawyers. Potential class members may disagree with how the case is pursued or dislike the final outcome. Each person should decide what is best for their claim. For specific advice about your particular case, you should consult with a lawyer.