In a class action, the claims of numerous claimants are grouped together. Class actions are brought pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or a state-law counterpart. To pursue a class action, a group of individuals must demonstrate that they have similar injuries and common legal claims against a defendant, usually a business entity. A class action is pursued by a lead plaintiff, also known as a class representative, on behalf of all persons who were similarly wronged by the defendant. A class representative will work with class counsel and is obligated to always protect the interests of other (absent) class members who have no active role in the litigation. Generally, unless they choose to exclude themselves (opt out), all members of the class are bound by the result in a class action. If there is a recovery, either through a jury verdict or a settlement, individuals who are members of the class will share in the recovery. A class action allows claimants to pool their resources, so claims of hundreds or thousands of similarly situated individuals can be pursued in a cost-effective way. The class action lawsuit is one of the most effective tools consumers have to challenge unfair and deceptive business practices. The relatively small amount of damages involved in most consumer claims makes it difficult, and often impossible, to obtain relief through individual lawsuits.
Mass tort litigation is typically used to describe an area of law in which a large number of people were harmed in the same way, for instance, by a defective product or an airline disaster. If claimants are harmed by a particular product, practice, or event in much the same way, it is common for all such claims to be grouped together for certain phases of the litigation. For instance, if a particular drug, event, or product causes the same type injury, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will determine whether cases should be consolidated and the most logical place to transfer the cases. When an MDL is established, cases will be sent from the court in which they were filed to the transferee court for all pretrial proceedings and discovery. If a case is not settled or dismissed in the transferee court, it will be remanded (sent back) to the transferor court in which it was filed for trial. An MDL helps streamline the handling of mass tort litigation and also ensures that rulings on disputed issues are consistent.
G. Christopher Olson