What is a class action

A class action is a type of lawsuit in which a group sues an organization or an individual. Typically, the group files a class action lawsuit because its members have been similarly harmed by the defendants. These cases are filed against individuals as well as entities, such as financial institutions, employers, manufacturers, even governments.

Harm can be, but is not limited to, fraud, breach of contract, false advertising and discrimination, and the group harmed can be composed of employees, investors, consumers, parents, etc. A class action lawsuit allows the claims of each harmed individual to be resolved in one case, rather than every individual filing their lawsuit against the defendant separately. The most notable class action case was Brown v. Board of Education, in which thirteen parents sued the Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas for discrimination against their children.

Today, class action lawsuits challenge not only governmental entities, but individuals, organizations and various legal entities, such as investment funds and corporations. These suits can be filed in state or federal court and arise from broad range of misconduct, including fraud, regulatory violations or even unintentional deception.

In a class action suit, the group is represented by one or more members, called a class representative, also known as the lead plaintiff. In Brown v. Board of Education, Oliver Brown was the class representative, the “Brown” in the titular case. The class representative and their legal counsel carries on the case on behalf of the group, who have given up their right to sue to the class representative.

Additionally, by joining a class action suit, individuals gain significant advantages over suing alone:

  • a class action is cheaper because litigation costs are shared between group members,
  • guaranteed restitution if the suit is successful or defendant agrees to a settlement,
  • less time in court because one judge will settle the entire case,
  • access to more experienced legal representation and
  • a higher chance of winning the suit or obtaining a settlement.

Class actions allow injured individuals to come together and take on the largest adversary, where the expense of litigating a single claim would be prohibitively expensive. The “class” becomes itself a kind of corporate litigant – allowing individuals to band together and equally match the resources of a government or corporate defendant.