What Are They And How Can They Help You?
Consumer Class Actions can allow lots of people who suffered a small amount of harm to join together to level the playing field. Think about it – if you buy a defective toaster oven for $40 and the company refuses to fix it or give you a new one, it’s often impractical to hire a lawyer to protect your rights. It’s also not likely to hire a lawyer to represent you on a contingency basis, because the most you would likely recover would be the value of the toaster.
But if there are hundreds of thousands of people who bought the same toaster and experienced a defective product, a class action lawyer might be the right fit. A class action lawsuit lets you, the consumer, join together with all the other folks out there that suffered the same problem. While the companies may not respond to a single consumer complaint, they are required by law to respond and defend their products when faced with a class action lawsuit.
By participating in a class action lawsuit, you are telling the company you will not just go away and accept a faulty product or service. Your class action attorney will seek recovery for the entire class of persons who have similar issues.
Class action lawsuits are complex and often taken by attorneys on a contingent fee basis. When you decide to hire this firm in a class action case, you do not have to pay a dime. We only get a recovery if you do. That means we pay for everything – the filing fees, expert witnesses, deposition costs, product testing, copies, etc. If we are successful in showing the court that the plaintiffs experienced similar issues, the court will “certify” the class. This means our case can continue and the company can be held accountable. In our toaster oven example, a certified class could include “All persons in all states who purchased the ACME brand toaster oven Models MJY47 from 2012-2018.”
The named plaintiffs, through their attorneys, eventually ask the court to “certify a class,” meaning to find that the issues really are common to the larger group, and to allow the named plaintiffs and their attorneys to move forward and litigate the issues on behalf of all similarly-affected consumers. For example, a class might include every person in a state or in the United States who was charged a fee in violation of their credit card agreement, or an interest rate higher than that allowed by law.
A class action is typically commenced by an individual or a small group of individuals who have suffered some harm at the hands of a large business or other entity. The challenged actions may violate federal, state, or local law. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of not only the named plaintiffs, but also “on behalf of all others similarly situated.” This means that the named plaintiffs must allege that the wrongdoing at issue is common to a larger group of victims, beyond themselves.
In addition to monetary settlements or awards, class action orders and agreements often include provisions requiring the company to suspend unlawful practices, provide improved information to consumers, and otherwise improve their business practices and interactions with consumers.
Many class action lawsuits settle, as there is often clear and compelling evidence of widespread unlawful practices, and companies are understandably concerned about a finding by a court that they have broken the law. However, even in those cases that ultimately settle, class attorneys must sometimes fight for the consumers’ rights for years in long, complex, and often highly technical proceedings. That’s why it’s critical for the class to be represented by attorneys with adequate knowledge, experience, dedication, and resources to see the case through to the most favorable result possible for consumers.
Difference Between Class Action Cases and Standard Attorney-Client Cases
In most legal situations, the attorney works with one client to resolve a singular set of issues – personal injury, divorce, employment discrimination, etc. The attorney is obligated to only consider the interests of their singular client above all other interests in handling their case. This means keeping the client promptly informed of all developments, phone calls, emails, court appearances and other things which go on.
In a class action case, the named plaintiff is still critically important. However the attorney has an obligation beyond the named plaintiff to the proposed class – everyone else. While John Smith may be the named plaintiff, he does not have the same ability to control the course of the case that he would if he brought an individual action against Acme Corp. for that defective toaster. But then again, if John Smith wanted to pay a firm its hourly rate to pursue legal action for a $40 toaster, he would be free to do so and all the trappings of the typical attorney-client relationship would apply. However, most attorneys would advise against this strategy since it would not be cost-effective for Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith, and any other person, who comes to Sheehan & Associates, P.C., and seeks to be a named plaintiff in one of our many cases or reports a problem or issue with a good, service, policy, practice or any other type of unfair and deceptive conduct, will receive a Class Action Representation Agreement which outlines in details all of these things. It’s not 10 pages full of legal jargon but one page which states the potential named plaintiff is aware of these important distinctions, and that they recognize the interests of the class are above those of their own. Plus, it’s easy to cancel at any time. Of course, there may be instances where it will be required to ask the Court for permission for you to withdraw as a named plaintiff, but rest assured if that’s what you want, Sheehan & Associates, P.C., will request the Court allow you to withdraw, with no fees or costs at all.
It just takes one person
Many times a company will continue to act wrongly for a long time after people are aware of it. Everyone will wonder, “How come no one has done anything about the Acme Corporation?”
People will incorrectly assume that someone – bigger and stronger than them – has attempted to stop the Acme Company, but they must have been unsuccessful, allowing them to continue in their mischievous ways. In reality, when everyone might think this, it leads to inaction.
No one wants to go out into the valley against Goliath and face the giant. And nobody definitely wants to be the first! Acme also figures that because they haven’t been stopped doing things that are unfair, they can get away with more shenanigans – whether cutting corners on toaster oven parts, buying defective parts, not honoring their warranties.
Nevertheless, it will only take ONE person to make a difference and be that named plaintiff. You will be surprised that once the first person comes forward and says, “My toaster broke after 5 days,” the floodgates will open and there will be dozens, then hundreds then thousands who have the same issues you had.
Many times I’ve had consumers come to me and say they want to bring a class action lawsuit against such and such company. They have a misperception from the media and film that they will hit the jackpot and get a large monetary settlement.
When I tell them what it entails, they may have second thoughts. Its one thing to complain and grumble privately about something or a company, whether on the computer or to your friends. It’s a totally different thing to walk right up to the company’s door, give them a bunch of papers which tell the unflattering truth about what they’ve done.