Class action lawsuits bring together a number of people all claiming damages resulting from the same or similar wrongs. Defective products and medication exemplify class action cases. Claims by many join to create a class action.
Defective birth control devices linked to cervical cancer formed the basis of one class action. Others arise from injuries caused by a variety of products ranging from automobile air bags to breast implants.
Two requirements exist for a class action lawsuit: “numerosity” and similarity.
“Numerosity” means that there are so many people claiming damage as a result of a similar wrong that it is practical for the courts to handle them together, rather than as separate lawsuits. The similarity requirement means that people joining the class must present common questions of law or fact. The court confronts complex issues. But, any determination then applies to all class members.
Class actions are a practical way to address the challenges faced by those injured as a result of complex problems. For example, where auto airbags fail to deploy. In any law suit, the injured person bears the burden of proof to show that the other side did something wrong.
In order to prove airbag failure, expert engineering testimony is required. A mechanical engineer may be required to demonstrate how the device should operate, and how it failed. An electrical engineer may also be required depending on the nature of the failure. Other automotive engineers may be required to tie together the elements of the design of the device and what may have gone wrong in the manufacturing process to cause the failure.
By the time all of the experts are paid, there will be little or no money left in any one individual claim. That is why the power in numbers makes a class action a good alternative where a number of people are injured by similar circumstances. The same expert testimony is used in one case to benefit many. Medications that have been rushed through the approval process and cause harm fall into this category.
Court rules impose numerous conditions before a class will be “certified” and the case is allowed to proceed as a class action. Attorneys must demonstrate that if the cases went along individually there would be a danger of inconsistent or varying adjudications that would establish incompatible standards of conduct. The class must also show that questions of law or fact common to class members are more important than questions involving only individual members.
After satisfying initial requirements the class is “certified” and the class is defined. An order is issued requiring notice to all potential class members, most often by publication in printed magazines or newspapers. The court will also issue an order appointing class counsel. This must be an attorney or a committee of attorneys with adequate knowledge or experience in similar litigation.
Class action cases are often brought in the federal courts. However, most states have their own rules for certification of class actions and many successful class actions have gone through state courts.