In the simplest sense, class action lawsuits protect the rights of a group of individuals similarly situated. Class action lawsuits can protect a group of consumers injured by a defective product or drug, other hazard, or asbestos exposure, for instance. Class actions have a long development throughout history and can be beneficial for both those bringing a claim and those defending against a claim.
Class action lawsuits allow one or a few injured parties to serve as a representative of a class, or group of injured people who have suffered the same or similar injury as a result of the actions of the same party. Class action lawsuits are commonly used because it would be unmanageable to prosecute each claim brought by each injured individual. In addition, class action lawsuits protect the interests of absent parties and can be economical for both those bringing claims and defending against claims. Those defending against claims may also be protected from inconsistent obligations and outcomes through the class action process.
There are certain legal requirements that must be satisfied for a class action lawsuit to be approved and to proceed. These requirements include that the number of class members must be too numerous to join them; there are common questions of law or fact shared by members of the proposed class; the claims and defenses of the proposed class are typical of all members of the class; and the class representatives of the proposed class would adequately protect the interests of the proposed class. In addition, to approve the class the court must find that not doing so would have to create a danger of inconsistent rulings; or because of actions of the party defending against the claim, certain types of relief for the class would be appropriate; or common questions of law or fact outweigh those of the individuals.
If the court determines that a class action proceeding would be preferable, a class can be certified and the claim may proceed. Class actions lawsuits may seem convoluted but ensuring that the requirements are met helps to protect the rights of individuals, groups and even those defending against a claim to ensure the best outcome possible.