Class actions are complex, costly and lengthy. For a variety of reasons, few make it to trial. And those that actually get to trial are resolved before the trial actual starts.
Most often, class actions are resolved as part of a settlement. This is a highly choreographed process that is subject to strict rules, schedules and multiple hearings. The settlement of a class action requires multiple motions, hearings and court rulings. It is a process that can take between 6 and 18 months to play out. Most importantly, all class action settlements are subject to court approval.
A class action settlement begins with a lengthy agreement between the parties that memorializes and details the terms of the settlement. Those terms must be publicized – often mailed to class members and published in print and online – so that class members are informed of the settlement and able to make an informed decision regarding whether it is adequate. Following this notice period, class members are usually afforded an opportunity to participate in the settlement, exclude themselves from it or object to it. The court then holds a final hearing at which point the parties, as well as any interested class members, discuss the merits of the settlement.
At the final hearing, the court will assess the merits of the settlement, hear from the parties, their counsel and any class members, and weigh any evidence or testimony presented about the settlement. A class action settlement is only approved if the court finds that it is fair, reasonable and adequate.