What is Class Action Status?

G. Wiesen

Class action status is a status awarded to a group of individuals involved in a lawsuit that establishes that suit as a class action lawsuit. This differentiates the lawsuit from a standard lawsuit in a number of ways, including the fact that many different defendants or plaintiffs are pursuing legal action in the course of a single suit. A number of different plaintiffs or defendants must be named in this type of suit and be brought together in a common interest. Class action status is typically awarded to a lawsuit by a judge after seeing the number of plaintiffs or defendants involved and considering how individual lawsuits would compare to a class action suit.

Class action status is awarded by a judge to a group of individuals involved in a lawsuit.
Class action status is awarded by a judge to a group of individuals involved in a lawsuit.

A class action lawsuit is a type of civil suit brought against a single defendant by many plaintiffs, or by a plaintiff against multiple defendants. The first type of class action suit, called a “plaintiff class action,” is somewhat more common and is the type typically represented in movies and other dramatic works. Class action suits involving multiple defendants are known as “defendant class action” suits and usually involve multiple defendants who represent the same product or service involved in the suit. A class action lawsuit only becomes a class action once it is awarded class action status by a judge.

Class action status is typically awarded to a lawsuit when it is determined that the number of plaintiffs or defendants is so great that individual lawsuits would be either impossible or detrimental to the legal system. In other words, if there are potentially hundreds of individual plaintiffs who may want to bring a civil suit against a company or government for perceived misdoing, then it is often in the best interest of those plaintiffs and the legal system to allow them all to be involved in a single suit. Class action status is generally considered and awarded by a judge to ensure that hundreds of different courts are not bogged down by the same case being seen repeatedly.

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A single defendant may actually prefer a suit be awarded class action status for a number of reasons. If the details of the case are potentially harmful to the defendant’s reputation, a class action suit ensures that these details are only revealed and considered once, rather than dozens or hundreds of times in separate suits. The defendant also only has to defend against a single suit, and one strong defense in a class action can end hundreds of potential individual suits at once. On the other hand, plaintiffs in a class suit need only mount one strong “attack” against the defendant and prove culpability one time to see dozens or hundreds of claimants awarded.

Once a lawsuit is given class action status, any potential plaintiffs should be notified directly or through public posting regarding the suit. This is because anyone who may be a plaintiff is automatically a part of the class action and must “opt out” of the action if he or she wishes to pursue an individual suit. Otherwise he or she is represented by the class action suit and is bound to whatever settlement or action results.

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