Class Action Lawsuits
Class action lawsuits are an important part of the American justice system, providing a mechanism for plaintiffs to join together and collectively enforce their rights.
When a large group of individuals has been wronged or harmed, but no one person has enough economic incentive to file a lawsuit on their own, those individuals can form a “class” of plaintiffs in a single lawsuit.
Class action lawsuits are highly complex, legally demanding, and often very lengthy. They require a law firm with the financial and intellectual resources to see these cases through to resolution.
Milberg pioneered federal class action litigation and is widely recognized as a leader in defending the rights of victims of corporate and other large-scale wrongdoing. We have the manpower, resources, technology, and experience necessary to provide effective representation in nationwide class action lawsuits. Our attorneys have led class actions that have resulted in settlements worth tens of millions, hundreds of millions, and even billions of dollars across a variety of practice areas, including defective consumer products, pharmaceutical drugs, insurance, securities, antitrust, environmental and toxic torts, consumer protection, and breach of contract.
Since the firm’s founding in 1965, Milberg has repeatedly taken the lead in landmark cases that have set groundbreaking legal precedents, prompted changes in corporate governance, and recovered over $50 billion for our clients. If you are interested in filing a class action lawsuit, we invite you to contact us for a free case review.
How Class Action Lawsuits Work
You’ve probably, at some point, received a notice telling you that you may be a member of a class action settlement. You might have wondered how you can be eligible to receive a share of the settlement when you never filed a lawsuit in the first place. But that is part of what makes class action lawsuits so effective. For most class actions, if you meet certain criteria, you are automatically a class member and eligible to share in the settlement. The fact that you are receiving a class action notice means that you have been identified as a class member.
Although you may need to “opt in” to the lawsuit and submit an online claim form to receive a settlement distribution, your responsibilities as a class member are very limited. If this sounds too good to be true, keep in mind that, behind the scenes, class action attorneys do a lot of work to reach a settlement.
Power in Numbers
The essence of class action lawsuits is power in numbers. Hiring a lawyer and filing an individual lawsuit makes sense for a high-value case, such as a pharmaceutical drug that causes life-changing injuries. But not all cases can realistically be pursued on an individual basis.
Maybe you took that same pharmaceutical drug and did not yet suffer injuries from it. Instead, you have to undergo regular medical monitoring and pay for diagnostic testing. Nationwide, there are thousands of people who took the same drug and require the same testing. Although each individual may only have a claim worth a few hundred dollars—not enough to justify the cost of hiring a lawyer—all of these individuals can join together and file a lawsuit as a single class. If a settlement is reached, each class member receives a share, and attorney fees are paid out of the settlement.
The Lead Plaintiff and The Class
Class action lawsuits begin like other types of lawsuits: a plaintiff hires an attorney, and the attorney files a claim with the court on behalf of the plaintiff.
In a class action lawsuit, the person who initially files suit is known as the “lead plaintiff” or “class representative.” The lawsuit is filed not only for the benefit of the lead plaintiff, but also for the benefit of all those people who are “similarly situated,” or affected in the same way as the lead plaintiff.
Together, these individuals make up the class.
Defining the Class
Each class action lawsuit specifically defines who is a class member. Generally, it is anyone who bought a particular product or paid for a particular service during a given time period, such as all consumers who purchased a mislabeled food product, or all customers who were charged an overdraft fee by their bank.
The number of people eligible to participate in a class action is limited only by the class criteria. Class actions often include many thousands of class members. The class may be defined on either a nationwide basis or a state-wide basis.
Duties of the Lead Plaintiff
No matter how many class members are included, there is only one lead plaintiff, or at most, a small group of lead plaintiffs. The lead plaintiff works with the class action attorney they hired to file the lawsuit. They have responsibilities that may include helping to gather evidence, participating in hearings, and attending the trial. Importantly, the lead plaintiff also has the authority to accept or reject settlement offers.
Since the lead plaintiff does extra work to prosecute a class action lawsuit, they are eligible, at the court’s discretion, to receive an extra payment.
Steps in a Class Action Lawsuit
Sometimes, a potential plaintiff contacts a law firm with an idea for a class action lawsuit. Other times, the law firm already knows about a legal issue and seeks out an affected individual to serve as the lead plaintiff. Either way, a class action lawsuit begins with an attorney evaluating the issues and deciding whether a class action lawsuit is appropriate. Once the attorney decides to move ahead with the case, it proceeds through the following steps:
Step 1: File the Lawsuit
The attorney drafts a complaint, which outlines the facts of the case, the proposed class members, and the remedy (or remedies) being sought from the defendant.
Step 2: Certify the Class
Class action lawsuits begin as “proposed” class actions. To officially gain class action status, the court must approve the case. Class actions are regulated by federal law, and a judge considers several factors when evaluating a proposed class action. One of these factors is whether the attorney or law firm has the necessary experience, skills, knowledge of the law, and resources to effectively represent the class.
Step 3: Discovery
Discovery is the investigatory phase of a lawsuit. During discovery, both parties collect evidence, request documents from each other, and may gather sworn testimony from individuals relevant to the investigation, including the lead plaintiff.
Step 4: Resolution
The vast majority of certified class action lawsuits result in settlement, but it is possible for the case to go to trial. When class actions are tried in court, the trial proceeds the same way it does in other types of lawsuits. There aren’t any special trial procedures for class actions. At trial, the lead plaintiff may be called upon to testify.
Step 5: Notify Class Members
After the case is resolved, the class action attorneys are responsible for notifying everyone whose rights could be affected and instructing them on how to claim a part of the settlement. The notice explains what the lawsuit is about, the groups of people who may be eligible to make a claim, how to submit a claim, and the claim deadline. Class members are also given the right to “opt out” of the settlement. Anyone who opts out cannot claim a settlement share, but they may be able to file an individual lawsuit instead. Depending on the lawsuit, class members may need to “opt in” as well. Opting in to a class action means you waive the right to pursue a separate lawsuit against the defendant.
Milberg’s Class Action Settlements
Milberg is one of the country’s top class action law firms. In its early years, the firm built a new area of legal practice by representing shareholder interests under the then recently-amended Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which allowed securities fraud cases, among others, to proceed as class actions. Milberg’s attorneys have since represented plaintiffs in a wide range of class actions that have resulted in significant recoveries, including:
- $1.25 billion nationwide class settlement on behalf of tens of thousands of black farmers who were denied equal access to U.S. Agriculture Department loan programs.
- $1.14 billion settlement in a federal securities class action against Nortel Networks Corp.
- $1.062 billion settlement against Merck & Co. that was the largest securities class action settlement ever against a pharmaceutical company.
- $600 million settlement in a securities class action alleging that Lucent Technologies and its senior officers misrepresented the demand for Lucent products and improperly recognized revenues.
- $178.6 million settlement for retirees of AK Steel’s Butler Works Plant in western Pennsylvania.
- $40 million settlement for repairs and reimbursement of repair costs incurred in connection with Chevrolet Equinox excessive oil consumption.
- $35.5 million settlement in a product liability class action against Electrolux Home Products for allegedly selling dangerous and defective clothes dryers.
- $30 million settlement in a class action for hundreds of homeowners whose homes were built with defectively manufactured concrete.
- $15.8 million settlement for a group of retirees and their families, resolving class action allegations that the steelmaker violated federal pension law by cutting their health care benefits.
- $14 million combined settlement of two class actions alleging that water supply and heater connectors sold by Watts Regulator Co caused significant water damage to homes.
Contact Milberg’s Class Action Attorneys
Milberg, the firm that pioneered federal class action litigation, continues to be a national leader in class actions. We built our name and reputation by taking on some of the biggest companies in the world and fighting for victims of corporate wrongdoing. Our lawyers represent consumers, homeowners, professionals, investors, and businesses in class action lawsuits that hold corporations accountable and provide real benefits to class members.
Get in touch with Milberg today for a free review of your class action legal rights.
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