Class actions enable a single individual to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a group against a defendant or group of defendants. One common misperception among the general public and attorneys is that the filing of a class action requires a group of people who all elect to file suit. In reality, one solitary individual can pursue a class action. For this reason, class action litigation can be considered "representative" litigation as opposed to "group" litigation.
The individual who files the suit is the "class representative" and the other members of the group are the "class members." The total number of class members can range from a small group to thousands, or even tens of thousands. Class members typically play no role in the lawsuit aside from possibly voting to approve a settlement. Class representatives may play major roles and commit substantial time to the lawsuit. This time commitment can include appearing at depositions, responding to written discovery, and making decisions relating to case strategy. For this reason, courts will typically award "incentive payments" to class representatives as a reward for work they perform on behalf of the class.
Types of class actions relate to spam text or robocall (TCPA), securities, labor/employment, product liability, consumer fraud or false advertising, antitrust, environmental, unfair debt collection, civil rights, and violations of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA).
Why file a class action? Why not just file a regular individual lawsuit?
Class actions are ideal when each person has suffered damages of only a small amount of money (or at least an amount small enough to make filing an individual lawsuit cost prohibitive). By bringing a class action, your attorney can take the case on a contingent fee, and seek to recover fees from the defendant based on the total amount of money recovered for the entire class.
The other advantage to filing a class action lawsuit is that it is more likely to cause a large corporation, or other defendant, to take notice of the suit and/or change its wrongful behavior. In other words, the size of the potential award will possibly have a greater impact on public safety, consumer protection, truth in advertising, etc. Large companies will sometimes only take notice of larger suits in which they stand to lose millions of dollars, as opposed to losing a couple hundred dollars.
Authority to maintain class actions comes from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and Missouri Rule of Civil Procedure 52.08. Because those two rules are nearly identical, much of Missouri procedural law relating to class action litigation is adopted directly from federal opinions, rules and statutes. The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 modified existing law to permit and require a greater percentage of suits to be brought in federal courts (as opposed to state courts). If you are a law student, or an attorney considering filing your first class action lawsuit, I recommend that you read The Class Action Playbook, by Anderson and Trask (Oxford University Press, 2010) from cover to cover. The ABA also provides a variety of helpful state-specific resources.
If you have a question relating to a possible or pending class action, please send a direct message or call our office at (314) 725-4400. For more information on some of our recent cases, please visit our news page. We also have an FAQ relating to class actions and other issues.