Have you ever received a notice in the mail or by email saying that you may be eligible for a class action lawsuit settlement?
Such notices are issued when a company is the subject of a class action lawsuit and reached settlement terms with the plaintiff class members. You may be wondering how you are entitled to a part of the settlement when you never even filed a claim. But that is part of how class action lawsuits work. In most cases, anyone who bought a particular product or paid for a particular service during a certain time period is automatically a part of the “class” and may be entitled to a share of the settlement.
While consumer class actions are extremely common, many people aren’t exactly sure how they work. The most important thing to know about class actions is they provide consumers a way to pursue claims for cases that cannot realistically be pursued individually. You don’t always need an attorney to participate in a class action, but there are times when reaching out to a lawyer makes sense.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action lawsuit is a type of lawsuit that allows many consumers (or plaintiffs) to join together and sue a company or group of companies (the defendants). Class actions usually involve claims for purely economic losses. They can—but don’t often—deal with bodily injury claims. (See Mass Torts below for personal injuries caused by products.)
Class actions are useful when a product or service causes financial harm to a large group of consumers, but in relatively small amounts per person. For example, each individual consumer might only have claims worth $5 or $10 apiece. Hiring a lawyer to pursue a claim of this size isn’t practical. Class actions, though, allow all of the consumers similarly harmed to join together as a single class.
If a settlement is reached, each member of the class receives a share, and attorney fees are paid out of the settlement fund. In addition, the plaintiff or group of plaintiffs who originally filed the class action lawsuit may be entitled to an extra payment.
Types of Class Actions
Almost any product or service used or purchased by the public may be subject to class action litigation. Class action lawsuits can cover consumer products ranging from automobiles and electronic devices to pharmaceutical products and food. They can also cover services such as internet and cable, subscription services, streaming services, and social media platforms, as well as entities such as credit reporting bureaus and debt collectors. According to LexisNexis, over the last decade, companies paid more than $34 billion in consumer class action damages. Over that period, consumer class actions tripled.
Class Actions vs. Mass Torts
Class action lawsuits are sometimes confused with another type of litigation called a “mass tort.” You may see these terms used interchangeably, but class actions and mass torts are not the same. The legal term “tort” is defined as a wrongful act that causes injury to another. A mass tort, therefore, is a wrong, usually committed by a large corporation, that injures many people. Classic examples include tobacco, lead poisoning, and asbestos.
Class actions and mass torts are both types of legal action taken by many people with similar claims. But, unlike a class action which treats the entire class as a single plaintiff, each plaintiff in a mass tort files an individual lawsuit and maintains their own case. And while class action claims mostly focus on monetary losses, mass torts deal with personal injuries.
When many plaintiffs in different courts across the country file similar individual lawsuits against the same defendant(s), attorneys will often ask the court to consolidate the lawsuits in a single court. Once the cases are consolidated, a mass tort is formed. However, each individual plaintiff within the mass tort has their own attorney, their own trial, and their own unique outcome. They do not simply receive a share of a settlement fund the way that class action members do.
Examples of Class Action and Mass Tort Lawsuits
At any given time, there may be hundreds of different class action claims working their way through the courts. Some types of products can result in both class action lawsuits and a mass tort. Two of the most heavily-litigated products right now are Zantac and 3M ear plugs.
- Zantac, an over the counter heartburn medication, has been found to contain unsafe levels of a cancer-causing substance known as NDMA. Class action lawsuits alleging that drug makers failed to warn consumers about NDMA in their products seek to compensate users for the money they spent on the medicine. There is also a Zantac mass tort consisting of patients who claim they developed cancer from taking Zantac.
- 3M is accused of selling a type of combat earplug to the United States military without disclosing a defect that can cause hearing problems. More than 200,000 veterans have sued 3M for their injuries, making this one of the largest mass torts in history.
When To Seek Legal Representation
Unless you have an idea for a class action lawsuit that hasn’t yet been filed, you do not have to do anything to join a class action. The court will automatically identify eligible class members and send them notifications. To join a mass tort, on the other hand, you need to hire a lawyer and file your own lawsuit.
Graham & Graham has legal partners that specialize in these types of cases. Right now, our partner firms are focused on Zantac cancer lawsuits and 3M hearing loss lawsuits. You may have a case if you took Zantac and were diagnosed with cancer, or if you used 3M Combat Arms earplugs and developed a hearing impairment.
We invite you to call our office for a no-cost consultation. Graham & Graham has served the Southeastern Ohio region for over 90 years. We are committed to ensuring our clients receive compassionate and skilled legal advice. Talk to a lawyer.