Class action lawsuits are often misunderstood. Most people have little involvement in a case, even if they are considered within the “class,” and it may be difficult to understand why a case can settle for millions of dollars, and yet most class members only receive payments measured in the tens of dollars.
Class actions function to provide compensation to people who have suffered a wrong, say a group of employees who were denied overtime or improperly paid lower wages due to discrimination. They can also help those who suffered injuries as a result of defective medical devices or drugs.
But they also serve as an important regulatory tool. While government is often criticized for overregulation, there are thousands of examples every year of situations where you would expect a governmental body would have taken some action to prevent a problem or stop it once it begins.
Unfortunately, most governmental agencies are understaffed and underfunded, and cannot be everywhere, all of the time. Class actions provide a check, especially on the power of large, multinational corporations, and are a way for ordinary people to band together to stop a variety of activities that cause harm.
Sometimes it may be small, like a bank charging improper fees for some transactions. Other times, it can be forcing the removal of a dangerous drug that is killing patients.
One feature of class actions that is important to note, is the ability to opt out. If your claim or injury is related to the class, but you suffered much greater losses or were much more severely injured, you may want to speak with an attorney and determine if you would be better off opting out of the class action and bringing a separate case on your own.
Kiplinger.com, “6 Things You Must Know About Class-Action Lawsuits,” Kaitlin Pitsker, August 2015