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Class Action Lawsuits
Class action lawsuits apply to situations in which many people—the class—have been injured in a single occurrence or by the actions of a single or small group of actors. For example, when a plane crashes, or a pension fund collapses, or a hospital infects its patients, the class action lawsuit allows the victims to group together and sue the responsible party.
Class action lawsuits have a long and troubled history both within the United States and abroad. To date, only a handful of countries allow class action or group litigation. In the United States, class action lawsuits are governed by strict procedural rules both at the federal and state levels. While entire treatises have been written on the subject, below is a basic overview of some common issues arising from class action litigation.
When Is a Class Action Lawsuit Possible?
In Illinois, § 2-801 of the Code of Civil Procedure dictates when a class action lawsuit is possible. A party may sue or be sued as a representative member of his or her class when:
- There are so many members of the class that it would be impossible for them to all be parties to the suit
- The issues of the case that are common to all members of the class predominate over issues that apply only to class members individually
- The representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class
- A class action lawsuit is an appropriate method for the fair and efficient resolution of the issues
When there are below 25 members in the class, an Illinois court will probably not consider a class action as appropriate. Between 25 and 40, a court may rule either way. Whenever there are above 40 members of the class, a court will generally consider the requirement for so-called “numerosity” to be fulfilled.
For the second requirement, concerning predominance, a court will analyze the complaint to determine what the issues are, and whether the most important ones are common to all members of the class. If, for example, there’s a very important issue to the case that applies only to one or a few members of the class, the case is not appropriate for class action.
For this reason, it’s difficult for some mass-tort (or personal injury) cases to be accepted as class action lawsuits in Illinois. The calculation of damages requires an individualized assessment of injuries and how they were caused—meaning that individual, as opposed to common issues of the class predominate the litigation.
When Should the Case Go to Federal Court?
Generally, legal professionals view state courts as more plaintiff-friendly, while federal courts are perceived as defendant-friendly. Therefore, the parties defending against a class action lawsuit will often attempt to have the case removed to federal court. This is only possible when federal courts have jurisdiction over the case.
28 USCA § 1332(d) lays out the requirements for when a federal court may have jurisdiction over a class action lawsuit. The amount at stake in the litigation must exceed $5,000,000 and any of the following must apply:
- At least one defendant and at least one plaintiff are citizens of different states
- At least one defendant is a US citizen and at least one plaintiff is a foreign state or citizen of a foreign state
- At least one defendant is a foreign state or a citizen of a foreign state and at least one plaintiff is a US citizen
The procedural requirements for federal class action lawsuits are contained within Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These requirements are identical to those of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure with one, important exception.
The federal rules require that the issues of the case be common and typical among all members of the class, whereas in Illinois these common issues must also predominate over individual issues. Owing to the difficulty in meeting the predominance requirement in Illinois, it may be desirable for plaintiffs to file mass tort class action lawsuits directly in federal court.
What Are the Consequences of Being a Party to a Class Action Lawsuit?
The media often highlights class action lawsuits because of the attention grabbing jury-awards, which often reach exorbitant sums. But it’s important to remember that when a $50 million jury award gets divided among all the members of the plaintiff class, each individual may only get a few hundred dollars.
It’s also important to remember that class action litigation is very expensive and time-consuming. And with such high stakes, defendants will not make it easy for the plaintiffs to win. While you may eventually receive compensation from a class action lawsuit, you should keep your expectations of recovery realistic.
Finally, the judgment of a class action lawsuit is binding upon all members of the class, unless they specifically opted out. This means that you cannot start a separate suit to recover for your injuries if you are dissatisfied with the result of a lawsuit involving a class to which you belong.
Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. is dedicated to getting compensation for accident victims through every possible avenue. Our highly experienced and compassionate attorneys are always just one phone call away. If you have questions about how to get compensation for your injuries after an accident, give the attorneys from Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. a call at (312) 236-2900 for a free consultation of your case.