Class Action Lawsuits
Overview of Class Actions in California
A class action lawsuit is often necessary when an employer commits similar infractions against a large number of workers. In most circumstances, the plaintiffs would be able to file lawsuits individually against the employer, but due to the nature, history, and number of offenses, it is easier to join the claims together into one larger suit. Class actions are intended to be more streamlined than litigating many separate lawsuits.
Federal rules of civil procedure dictate that class actions should be maintained when individual actions taken by or against class members would result in "inconsistent or varying ajudication with respect to individual class members." These rules also indicate that when the opposing party has "acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class," then class action is appropriate. And, most importantly, federal rules stipulate that questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any subjects affecting only individual members of the class.
Class Action Certfication
The first requirement is that the prospective class be "ascertainable," the court will look at the estimated class size, definition, and means of identifying class members. It also requires there be an established interest in the questions of law and fact that go into the case. It must also be determined that the impact of the infractions on the plaintiffs is similar enought to warrant all the cases being tried together. If the plaintiffs were affected to greatly varying degrees, then the cases should be tried separately.
Some class action cases garner a lot of media attention, and this has lead to some misconceptions about how class action lawsuits actually work. Following the recall of a faulty car or a new pharmaceutical with unforseen side-effects, you may have seen ads on TV informing the general public that they may be part of the class action, and therefore owed part of the settlement. Most class action suits don't cast so wide a net, and the prospective class members are contacted directly by the plaintiffs' representatives, usually by phone or mail.
Some of the largest class actions involve stock holders seeking damages against fraudulent corporations. In that kind of situation a class action lawsuit would be the best option because damages to individual plaintiffs might be small enough that most of the plaintiffs would not consider filing a suit him/ her self.
With a class action lawsuit all the affected plaintiffs can recover damages individually, and together the tort or settlement will be substantial enough to effectively punish the corporation. Because class actions can involve so many plaintiffs, it is not necessary that all parties appear in court for the trial, instead a much smaller number of plaintiffs will represent the interests of the class.
Class representatives must be determined to be typical of the claims available to the entire class— they are representative of the average plaintiff. Importantly, the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class must predominate over any questions affecting only individual class members. This means that the legal and factual questions that affect everyone must be more common than those affecting only a few people.
In general it must be shown that the suit applies to 50 or more people before approval of class certification becomes a strong possibility. Cases involving 20–50 plaintiffs are a greay area, and any fewer than that and the suits should be filed separately. Class actions necessarily involve so many plaintiffs that assembling them all before the court, and then presenting each of their factual claims, would be impractical.