A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit where a large group of plaintiffs who have all suffered similar injuries by the same defendant decide to sue the defendant as a group, or class. It may be filed in either state or federal court within the United States and must first be certified by the court as a class action lawsuit. As a rule, there are four basic prerequisites to filing a class action lawsuit: the number of plaintiffs must be high enough that joinder is impractical; common legal and factual issues must exist among the members of the class; the named plaintiffs must represent typical cases; and the named plaintiffs and their respective counsel must provide adequate representation for all class members.
The concept of a class action lawsuit originated in the United States as a way for the common man to realistically be able to file a lawsuit and recover damages against large corporations. Prior to the advent of class actions, an injured plaintiff was often unable to seek compensation from a large corporation due to the cost of litigation. By allowing plaintiffs with similar complaints and similar damages to join together, the playing field is leveled.
Class actions may be filed in state or federal court. As a rule, state courts are thought to be more favorable to plaintiffs, which is why many class actions are originally filed in state courts. The defendant, however, may move to have the case transferred to federal court where defendants are thought to be favored. The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 gives federal courts jurisdiction over class actions, where the damages sought exceeds $5,000,000 US Dollars (USD), which puts many class action lawsuits into the federal court arena.
A class action lawsuit will have a few named plaintiffs who must be representative of the class as a whole. In other words, they must have similar factual and legal issues and must be typical of the class. These named plaintiffs essentially litigate the case for the entire class, although all members of the class will share in the compensation award.
Once the named plaintiffs have filed the lawsuit, they must ask that the lawsuit be certified as a class action. The court will look at how many potential plaintiffs are involved to determine if joinder of the plaintiffs is impractical. The judge will also make sure the members of the class all have similar claims and that the counsel for the named plaintiffs is capable of adequately representing all the members of the class. If the court is satisfied, then the lawsuit will be certified as a class action lawsuit.