Consumer class actions are lawsuits filed by one or more parties or organizations on behalf of consumers of a product or service who have allegedly been harmed by its provider or manufacturer. Depending on applicable law, a class action lawsuit is a way for consumers who might not otherwise be able to justify the time and expense of individual lawsuits to receive compensation from a negligent business. Some law firms specialize in this type of litigation and actively solicit the participation of individuals in consumer class actions.
When an individual suffers some sort of damages as the result of a manufacturer's or service provider's negligence, he may have difficulty receiving compensation for any inconvenience, injury, or monetary loss. This is because many such incidences often involve a minimal amount of loss that would not be worth the time and effort of hiring a lawyer and going to court. If more than one consumer experiences a similar type of loss or injury, their cases together can represent an opportunity for significant compensation paid to a litigator, but also a way of compelling a business to be more responsible in its practices and dealings with the public.
A key aspect of consumer class actions is establishing, or certifying, as it is known in the United States, that the class action plaintiffs are actually a class and not just a body of disgruntled customers. A significant part of litigating consumer class actions is establishing that the group of consumers who wish to file the consumer class action lawsuit suffered similar losses and injuries. It isn't enough that all of these consumers suffered an injury; the injuries or losses must be of a specific type. Once the court recognizes the existence of this class, the lawsuit can proceed. During this process, members of the class, which may be hundreds of thousands of people, may be contacted so they can remove themselves from the class and retain their right to file an individual lawsuit.
While consumer class actions are commonly filed by individuals in the United States, some European countries now permit consumer advocacy groups to take the lead in filing consumer class actions. Even in the United States, consumer class action lawsuits can take on the characteristics of an activist agenda, particularly when there is significant evidence of a long-term pattern of wrongdoing by the defendant. In such cases, class action plaintiffs may actively solicit members of the class through the use of media efforts, including magazine and television advertisements. In very large class action lawsuits, the compensation paid by the defendant may likewise take on a socially significant hue, such as the contribution of money to not-for-profit organizations that address the types of injuries that originally sparked the lawsuit.