Class actions are lawsuits that involve a group of people who have all suffered a similar type of injury from the same cause. Rather than each individual beginning their own lawsuit, they join to sue the particular person or company for compensation. For example, a group of people may have all been injured by a defective product or may all have suffered injury and financial losses as a result of a major accident. Usually, one person or a small group of people begin the lawsuit, with others joining as time goes by. They may be formally notified of the lawsuit by mail, or they may just read about it in the newspaper.
Legal representation is always required when bringing a class action, and the class of plaintiffs must be approved or 'certified' by the court.
If you are the first or main person starting the lawsuit, you are called the representative plaintiff. Being the representative plaintiff means that you could personally be responsible for paying the defendant's costs if you lose the lawsuit and you do not get any financial support from the other plaintiffs.
If you are not the first or main plaintiff but are notified that you are part of a class proceeding, you have the choice of either remaining in the class or opting out. By opting out, you will not be involved in the court proceeding and you will not be entitled to share in any money awarded to other members of the class.
Starting or joining a class action can have large cost consequences and is usually difficult emotionally. Before bringing or joining a class action, you should consult a lawyer for advice and detailed information about the process.