How can a mouse hope to stop a charging elephant? It can’t. It can only scamper away, or choose to stand its ground and be trampled to death. One small, single individual can do little to stop a force much bigger and stronger than them. If this was so in the legal world, it would be impossible for many people to ever see justice. The American legal system enables individuals – the weak, the small, and the few – through the power of the class action lawsuit.
A class action is a form of lawsuit in which one individual sues on behalf of a much larger group of individuals. The group of individuals is this case is the “class.” Typically, members of the class have each been wronged of harmed in a similar way, and are too numerous to be represented practically in court. Most often class action lawsuits are filed against large companies who possess nearly endless funding and retain potent legal teams, making a lawsuit filed by a single individual a minor annoyance with little chance of success.
Class action lawsuits have been filed by groups of employees against employers for issues such as discrimination and mistreatment. Homeowners, business owners, and individuals can sue companies for damages resulting from environmental disasters such as in the case of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Patients who have experienced wide ranging and severe prescription drug side effects have rallied together to sue large drug companies and manufacturers. Groups of consumers can also sue companies for selling defective products or for false advertising.
Attorneys who represent plaintiffs in class action lawsuits generally only receive their legal fees if the class action suit is won and damages are paid out to the aggrieved parties. Most often defendants who are found guilty pay out a single large sum of money which is then split equitably between all members of the class.