People in Charleston may often hear stories on the local news or other media outlets detailing class action lawsuits. While many may understand that a class action is one that represents multiple plaintiffs, they may know nothing more than that. Yet such litigation can be quite common (indeed, according to the Stanford Law School, over $95 billion has been paid out in class action settlements since 1996). If and when one has a grievance, it may helpful to know that not only may he or she not be alone in that grievance, but that there is indeed a way to seek collective action against the party responsible for it.
Some may ask why one wouldn't simply seek action against another on his or her own rather than looking to involve others. One of the main reasons why groups seek a class action lawsuit is that the losses suffered by individual members may be limited (not so much to the point of not wanting to take action, but also not to the extent that seeking such action alone would be worthwhile). In a class, the expenses of litigation are spread out amongst the group. Plus, once a class has been qualified, it is easy to add new members who have the same grievance.
How is a class qualified? Per the Federal Practice Manual, four criteria must be met:
- The class is large enough that it is impractical to bring all of them together in a traditional lawsuit
- Each class member must share a common question of law or fact
- The claims of each class member must be similar
- Individual class representatives can protect the interest of the group
Once a class has been qualified, the court will review the common question of law to certify the group's claim.