Class and Mass Action Lawsuits in Georgia, Gulf Coast

Class action lawsuits can be complex and complicated. Although, however difficult class action lawsuits may appear, fighting for justice through these type of lawsuits can often help many wronged individuals obtain the legal remedies they deserve. If you feel that you or someone you love may be eligible as a class member, consult Alexander Shunnarah & Associates today.

What Are Class and Mass Action Lawsuits?

A class action lawsuit is a type of lawsuit filed on behalf of a group, or “class,” of people. A “class” is made up of a certain group of individuals who claim they have all been wronged in a similar manner by a certain party, be it a specific individual, business, corporation, group, etc… Because this class of individuals has joined together due to the fact they have been harmed by the same party in the same or similar fashion, they all seek similar restitution for their grievances. In order to ease the strain of the court and facilitate better legal representation, people who belong to the class are grouped together to form a single claim, or a “class” action.

Another type of multi-plaintiff case is a mass action claim. These types of cases are very similar to class action cases in that they include a class of numerous plaintiffs making allegations against the same party or parties. However, they differ from class actions in that the class does not have to be certified by a court. Because the court has not certified the group as a specified class, claimants in a mass action claim can also make more individualized claims. For example, these types of mass tort suits are common in defective product cases, because defective products can cause a broad range of injuries, making class members’ individual grievances dissimilar.

Steps in a Class or Mass Action Suit

After a complaint is filed on behalf of the class, the defendant party will then have a chance to respond to the complaint, accepting or denying certain allegations made within the claim. Once there is a response from the defendant party, the attorneys representing the class will begin the discovery process. During discovery, attorneys from both sides will request interviews, gather relevant documents, review evidence, and obtain any other information they believe is pertinent to the case.

Following the initial discovery process in a class action suit, plaintiff attorneys, working on behalf of the class, will submit to the court a list of selected individuals that they feel are representative of the class as a whole. The court will then certify this list of individual plaintiffs and name them the representatives of the class. Certifying the class is one of the most important steps in the early stages of a class action, for having the class properly certified, allows the class action to proceed as a legal claim in a court of law.

While class certification differs by state, the process is generally the same. In order to certify a class, plaintiffs must prove that the members of the class are truly representative of the grievance as a whole. These grievances of the class members must also be similar enough in nature to the extent that remedying the single class action will also further remedy each individual claim. A judge or court will also decide whether or not a class action is the best avenue for satisfying a case. At the end of the day, as with the majority of claims that pass through the court, the judge has full and final discretion.

With a certified class approved by the court and a viable claim existing, the class action suit may move to the trial phase. During this phase, a judge or jury will hear cases, and will then be adjudicated. Class action suits differ from the standard single plaintiff/defendant trials in many ways. Due to the unusual nature of these cases, these types of suits require that each individual class member receives notification regarding the status of the class action, as most class members are rarely, if ever, present in the trial phase of the class action.

At the trial conclusion, the judge or jury renders a verdict. If the defendants are found guilty of the allegations, they typically have the option to appeal to a higher court. If their appeal is denied, or they do not seek an appeal, the settlement phase of the class action begins. During this phase, class members submit their portion of their claim, supported by proper documentation. After these allegations have been reviewed, a payout process begins. During the payout process, individual class members are paid their claimed portion from the proceeds.

Why File a Class or Mass Action?

One of the most important reasons that class action lawsuits exist is that these type of suits provide people with the resources to take legal action against larger parties who often have access to more resources and capital. Without class action lawsuits, legal remedy would often otherwise be unavailable to one person. However, with class action suits, many individuals can together pool resources when they form a class in order to seek the proper justice they deserve. As former United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote, [t]he class action is one of the few legal remedies the small claimant has against those who command the status quo.” In short, a class action suit is a good option for ensuring that a large number of plaintiffs can quickly resolve their claims against larger parties with immense expendable capital.

Types of Class Action Suits

While there are many different types of class action lawsuits, their purpose remains the same—to provide a group of individuals with similar claims an opportunity to pursue legal remediation under one claim. Types of class action cases can include negligence, medical malpractice, consumer fraud, defective products, and personal injury.

Examples include:

  • Individuals living in an area that was negatively affected by a company’s negligence, such as Gulf Coast residents following the BP/ Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
  • Employees who have suffered similar types of discrimination by an employer, such as racial, gender, or sexual orientation discrimination.
  • Patients who took the same kind of prescription drug with unlisted side effects or who suffered unexpected health issues afterward.
  • Consumers who were injured or defrauded by a company manufacturing or selling a defective product or service.

Class actions such as these allow individual members to challenge larger, well-funded parties. In the example of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill, class members from across the Gulf Coast were able to challenge BP—one of the seven “supermajor” oil and gas companies in the world. Claimants in this litigation took legal action against BP, and other companies, for numerous allegations, including negligence.

Filing Class Actions

Class actions are typically filed in federal court. Under the Commerce Clause in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, businesses that engage in interstate commerce are subject to federal oversight. Because many defendants in class action suits operate both nationally and internationally, class action lawsuits that are brought against these companies end up in federal court. For a class action to be filed in federal court, multiple states (or countries) must be involved. Also for the action to be filed by a class in federal court, the amount in contestation must exceed five million dollars. The rules governing these types of class action suits can be found in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

How to File / Where to Start

If an individual believes that they might be eligible to join a class—either in a class or mass action suit—they should first find an attorney that understands their legal needs. An attorney should be able to provide more information regarding pending class suits, as well as prospects for future claims.

When speaking with a lawyer, it is important to feel comfortable enough to discuss issues and to ask questions, so you ensure you have retained the best representation for your claim. Some of these questions may include: Have they represented similar clients in the past? If so, how many cases have they handled like this in the last few years? Will they be working on the case personally, or will they be handing it off to a junior attorney or paralegal? What sort of complications will likely lie ahead in a case such as this? What is the fee structure? The proper attorney should be able to provide straightforward answers to all of these questions.

The best attorney for your legal needs understands not only the legal ramifications of a case but will also understand your regional concerns. Often, an individual prefers an attorney from their local area to represent them.

When deciding to be part of a class action lawsuit or mass action suits, it’s important to understand that these type of suits are complex and often take many years to resolve fully. If an individual has been injured, defrauded, or is the victim of negligence or abuse by a company or group of people, seeking legal remediation through a class action may be the best solution.