A loved one recently suffered a personal injury from a defective product. You are seeing more and more similar cases in the news.
Can your loved one initiate a class action lawsuit? Or do you need a large group of people to bring one?
The law does not really say that there has to be a certain number of plaintiffs for a class action case to come to fruition.
But for a suit to qualify as a class action case, a judge must be able to “certify a class.”
One requirement for class certification is that there has to be “a number of claimants” (or class members) where it would be impractical to bring them all in court.
Note that a class action suit is a claim where one or more people file a suit as class representatives for a larger number of people with similar individual claims.1
You can initiate these types of suits in either state or federal court.
1. Does a class action lawsuit require a certain number of claimants?
Usually, the law does not say that there has to be a set number of people before a suit can be labeled a class action lawsuit.
A single plaintiff can actually file an individual case to begin a class action suit.
But the plaintiff usually has to file an individual lawsuit as a representative of a larger class of people. The representative plaintiff then appears in court for the other class members.
When it comes to the number of potential class members, most laws state that the class has to be so numerous that a joinder of all members would be impractical.2
“Joinder” refers to the idea that it would be impractical to have all of the members of the class appear before the court.
2. Does there need to be class certification?
Yes. Once a lead plaintiff files a lawsuit to initiate the class action process, a judge has to “certify” the class for the case to proceed.
A judge will typically certify a potential class as long as:
- the class is so numerous that it is impracticable to bring all members before the court,
- there are questions of fact or law common to the class,
- the individual plaintiff or class representatives appearing in court will fairly and adequately protect the interest of the class, and
- the class action is an appropriate method for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.3
Once there is a certified class, the court usually provides notice of the certification to all of the class members. At this point, a potential member has the right to opt-out of the class action lawsuit.
3. Is there an average number of class members in these types of cases?
The specific number of class members in a class action case will just depend on the:
- kind of legal action filed, and
- facts and legal issues within the case.
Class action suits can involve dozens of members to over a million members.
Note that it often becomes more efficient to litigate a suit as the number of members in a class grows. This is because, with more class members, it would be much more costly and time-consuming to litigate the legal claim of every single member.
4. What are the benefits of a class action lawsuit?
As mentioned above, class action suits allow a court to function more efficiently. These cases also save money and time.
For example, if there was a defective drug that injured 1,000 people, and there was no option of a class action case, each injured person would have to hire a legal team to represent them in court.
This costs each person money, and it would take years before every claim was resolved.
But with a class action suit, a law firm or one or a few class action lawyers can bring a case on behalf of all affected parties.
They can then work to reach a favorable class action settlement (and bring the case to a close faster than if all parties filed their own individual suits).
Note that class action attorneys usually file these cases in incidents involving (but not limited to):
- mass torts,
- product liability or defective products,
- civil rights violations,
- unfair employment practices,
- antitrust violations,
- security violations, and
- false or misleading advertising.
- Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “Class or representative action.”
- See Federal Rules of Civil Procedure – Rule 23. See also California Civil Procedure Code 382.
- See Federal Rules of Civil Procedure – Rule 23. See also 735 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5 – Code of Civil Procedure.