What is class action?

A class action is a legal process that begins with an individual, group or organization that represents the concerns of a much larger group – or class – of people. The people in the class have suffered harm – a physical injury, unfair treatment or a financial loss, for example – in the same way. Then the class, with the support and expertise of an advocate with specialized knowledge and experience, will employ the law and the courts to redress its grievances. This redress could take the form of money paid to the class along with the change of business practices or policies.

Instead of filing many, many small, individual lawsuits, a class action involves one large lawsuit. This is a much more efficient use of the courts’ time and resources. It also demonstrates, often in dramatic fashion, the depth and breadth of the harm caused. A class action can have far-reaching consequences. The suit brought against tobacco manufacturers two decades ago not only compensated people who developed lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, but changed forever how the public viewed this product. It also spurred federal and state governments to take action to protect the public by higher taxes, restricted sales and strongly worded health warnings on cigarettes.

The pursuit of a class action is not simple or swift, and there is no guarantee of success. After a case is filed with the court, it may be two-to-five years or longer before a decision is reached.