Individuals often bring lawsuits when they have been harmed by someone or something. If your neighbor backs his or her vehicle into your car, you would potentially be able to sue them for the damage they caused.
But you have to weigh the dollar value of the damage with the cost of filing a lawsuit and hiring an attorney. If the victim is a consumer, and the damage is caused by large corporation, the dollar value of the individual consumer fraud may be small. A consumer may not be able to sue even though they a suffered legitimate harm, because the cost of the litigation would exceed the potential damage award.Â
Where many people have suffered limited harms, the class action provided the legal vehicle to allow them to vindicate their claims, obtain monetary compensation or prevent the activity from continuing.
Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides the basis for these cases. Four factors are necessary for a court to certify a class action.
Typically, there must be a large number of persons affected, and this number may vary, but often includes thousands or millions of individuals.
The basic questions of “law and fact” must be common to all of the class.
There are usually one or more individuals who become the class representative, and they must “fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.”
The court must also find that the common issues of the class predominate. In other words, the class must have more common issues that affect all members than individual ones that affect only a few members of the class.
Lastly, the court must consider two additional factors. It needs to find that the class action will be a superior form of litigation, and that it will be manageable.
The certification process itself can be complex, as the company that is being sued by the putative class will strenuously oppose the certification, knowing that it is unlikely that many of the individual defendants would be able to sue on their own.
Duke.edu, “AN INTRODUCTION TO CLASS ACTION PROCEDURE IN THE UNITED STATES,” Janet Cooper Alexander, accessed February 2015