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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Questions to ask an attorney in a class action suit

By Scott Roberts

A lawsuit is a civil case in which one party, the plaintiff, files a complaint claiming another party, the defendant, caused him harm. The plaintiff seeks damages for his injury, and the case is brought before a court, which decides the verdict.

A class action is a lawsuit involving many plaintiffs who bring a single complaint against one defendant or group of defendants. The plaintiffs, who all share a similar set of facts, injuries and damages, are formed into a group called a class. If you find yourself involved in a class action lawsuit, or you suspect you might become part of one, here are some questions you should ask.

How do I know if I should be part of the class action lawsuit?

Before proceeding, the first question to ask is about your qualification to participate in the lawsuit. You should find out as much as you can about how class actions work and whether your issue qualifies you to be a part of the case. Generally, in order to be part of a class action, you must show that your grievance against the defendant is similar to the other plaintiffs in the class.

What kinds of damages could I recover?

Your lawyer will evaluate your claim to determine what damages you’ve suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions. Generally, these damages are broken down into two kinds: compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages replace any actual losses caused by the defendant. These can include property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses. Punitive damages punish the defendant for their wrongdoing. They are typically awarded in the most egregious cases.

How does a class action differ from another type of lawsuit?

It is important to understand the differences between class actions, mass tort cases and individual lawsuits, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. A mass tort case differs from a class action in a couple of ways. In both class actions and mass torts, one defendant is sued by a group of plaintiffs. In a class action, the entire class is represented by one attorney or group of attorneys. The class divides any damage award or settlement equally. In a mass tort case, each plaintiff retains their own lawyer and recovers damages based on the individual facts of their case. Plaintiffs often pool together to hire a single attorney who represents multiple parties.

Do I hire my own lawyer in a class action lawsuit?

You should know how legal representation works in a class action case. If you join the class, your case will become part of the class action and you do not need your own lawyer. If you opt out, you can bring an individual lawsuit against the defendant and you will need a separate attorney.

What if I want to be the lead plaintiff?

The lead plaintiff is the representative of the class. The court will appoint the lead plaintiff, who appears in court and communicates with the attorneys. You should ask about this if you are interested in the responsibility of the role and have a compelling story to tell.

Is my claim big enough to justify joining a class action?

This is an important question because the damages are collective in a class action. Even if your individual harm was small, if thousands of others suffered the same harm, a class action is worthwhile to pursue.

How do I know you are the right class action attorney for me?

Finally, you should find out some details about your attorney’s experience with class action lawsuits. Before you sign a formal representation agreement, interview several attorneys and make sure you find one who you believe will provide competent representation and protect your interests as a class action attorney. Ask them what past experience they have handling similar cases and the results of those cases. Find out whether they will personally handle your case or if a junior attorney or paralegal will be your point of contact. Make sure you understand the attorney’s fees and how the damage settlement will be structured. Also find out how the lawyer intends to keep you informed about developments in the case. 

About the author: Scott Roberts is writing for Golomb and Honik, P.C, a boutique law firm specializing in commercial and consumer litigation, class action litigation, personal injury law, and medical malpractice law. He enjoys writing about law, life, and economics.

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