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Should You Join a Class-Action Lawsuit?

Invitations to join a class action lawsuit show up in our mailboxes, our email inboxes, and sometimes even via texts to our mobile phones. Sometimes they are for products or services we remember using. Other times, we have no idea why we were invited to join others in the legal pursuit of a particular company or organization. When we receive calls-to-legal-action, what is the best response? Joining? Opting out? Ignoring?

Let’s look at some of the reasons why consumers may wish to add their names to the list of complainants versus the reasons for bowing out.

What is a class-action lawsuit?

Before we can decide whether joining a class action lawsuit is the right move for us, we must first understand what defines a class action lawsuit.

When a group of people has suffered injuries from using a similar product or service, they can seek compensation from the courts as a group rather than as individual plaintiffs. Most class action lawsuits have manufacturers as plaintiffs. The biggest class-action lawsuit in recent history was against the U.S. tobacco industry, known as the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Attorneys general in 46 states pulled their prosecutorial powers to secure a $206 billion payout from the tobacco industry to settle tobacco lawsuits from individual plaintiffs. Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas were the only four states not to sign onto the class-action agreement.

Plaintiffs in class action lawsuits agree to a “piece of the pie” if a settlement is reached or a court rules in their favor. Agreeing to a cut of the settlement can either decrease or increase the potential damages plaintiffs would have received if they had filed separately.

The benefits of class-action lawsuits

Class action lawsuits have more advantages than disadvantages. They not only benefit the plaintiffs but also the court system by reducing the number of cases for the same claims against the same company or organization. Here are just a few of the many benefits of joining a class-action lawsuit.

  • They ensure equity. When plaintiffs take their cases to court separately, they could get different results depending on who serves on their juries. With a class action lawsuit, all litigants receive equal compensation from the courts or an out-of-court settlement.
  • They are cost-effective. Filing a lawsuit can be costly. Sometimes the costs of filing and pursuing a case would be greater than a potential award for damages. Class action suits have group power, meaning all plaintiffs share in the cost of representation. Most Albuquerque class action lawsuit lawyers work on contingency, so they receive a portion of the award instead of being paid in advance by plaintiffs.
  • They guarantee legal expertise. Taking on a class action lawsuit is no easy feat. Only attorneys with years of experience and a proven track record generally take them on. Individual plaintiffs may not have had the financial resources to afford this kind of expertise on their own.

The disadvantages of class-action lawsuits

One of the biggest drawbacks to joining a class action lawsuit is the loss of decision-making control. Since the lawsuit represents the best interests of a group, individual complainants lose the final say in whether to settle or continue to litigation.

Some of the other downsides to joining a class action suit:

  • Cases almost always settle for financial compensation. Plaintiffs interested in pursuing other types of compensation for their injuries may be best served by filing individually.
  • Individual plaintiffs can lose the right to sue individually later. If group complainants lose their case, individuals may not have the right to pursue legal action on their own later.

When in doubt about whether a class action lawsuit makes sense, consult with an attorney experienced in personal injury law. They can review your case and determine the right course of action.

How to join a class-action lawsuit

When individuals decide to join a class-action lawsuit, there are steps they must take to ensure they share in any representation and compensation. Take your notice to join the suit to an experienced personal injury attorney, who can help you submit your claim to the group legal representative. A personal injury lawyer can tell if the lawsuit is an opt-in or opt-out class action. Most class actions fall under the opt-out category, where class members automatically are included in the suit and receive any compensation awarded if it is successful. Individuals who do not want to participate in a class action can ask their lawyers how to opt out.

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