General Class Action FAQs
What is a class action?
A class action is a legal procedure used to prosecute efficiently a lawsuit in which a large number of people have been injured by a common act or set of actions. The class process is used, for example, in cases alleging or concerning price-fixing conspiracies (antitrust), fraudulent stock manipulation (securities), and oil spills (mass tort). In a class case, one or two named plaintiffs stand in for the entire group of similarly aggrieved persons during the course of the litigation. When a class case settles, the judge presiding over the case must approve the fairness and propriety of the settlement. Usually, potential class members have the option, after receiving notice, of excluding themselves from a class or class settlement, and pursuing the case on their own. The class procedure allows individuals and small businesses to prosecute meritorious cases that would have been too expensive and inefficient to litigate individually.
What kinds of cases are litigated as class actions?
In the 1960s, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to allow for class action litigation. The new Rules were promulgated with an eye towards strengthening the hands of government agencies seeking to uphold and enforce then recently enacted civil rights legislation by the empowerment of “private attorneys general.” Berger & Montague’s chairman and founder, David Berger, was a pioneer in applying the class action procedure in the field of antitrust litigation. Class action law has evolved over time and now is used to prosecute securities violations, consumer fraud, human and civil rights violations, employee benefits disputes, and environmental and mass torts. Berger & Montague has been instrumental in the use and development of the class action device in these areas as well.
Should I, or do I need to be, involved in a class action, and is there risk or expense for me?
In most cases you need take no steps of your own to join a class action. Indeed, usually only those who wish to exclude themselves from a class case need do anything. By participating in a class case, you accomplish a number of objectives. You may receive compensation for a wrong, injury, or loss you have sustained — compensation that may not have been available to you in any other forum. Through inclusion in a class of similarly harmed persons, you also demonstrate to the court that the alleged harm done was substantial and impacted a large number of people, increasing both the likelihood of recovery and its size. Moreover, the only costs to you will be drawn from any settlement or judgment proceeds upon successful resolution of the case (though in few states, named plaintiffs may be responsible for some costs). Class counsel work on a contingency fee basis and only get paid upon successful resolution of the matter. In addition, the attorneys advance expenses and costs associated with prosecuting class cases.
How are attorneys paid in class action cases?
The attorneys are usually paid in accordance with an order from the court before which the case is pending, and only if the case is successful. The judge responsible for the class action reviews a submission made by the attorneys, called a “fee petition.” This petition sets forth in detail the work the attorneys have done on behalf of the class. The court then enters an order establishing the amount of the judgment or settlement proceeds to be paid to the attorneys. The amount of the fees awarded is based upon a number of factors, including, among others, the quality of the work, the difficulty of the case, the nature of the result, the amount of time spent on the case, and the risks involved. Typically, this amount is 20% of the gross settlement.