A California class action lawsuit is a legal action in which one or more plaintiffs sue as representatives of a group of people with similar claims. Liability is then determined by a judge who approves a legal remedy for all members.
Common types of these lawsuits that our California personal injury attorneys handle include (but are not limited to):
- Consumer class actions for consumer fraud,
- Dangerous or defective products liability,
- Employment wage and hour law disputes,
- Civil rights violations,
- Securities class actions for securities violations,
- Valsartan lawsuits,
- Immigration violations,
- Asbestos violations,
- Antitrust violations, and
- Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) violations
Below, our California personal injury lawyers will explain:
- 1. What are class actions?
- 2. How do I start a class action lawsuit?
- 3. What criteria does a California court use in certifying a class?
- 4. What is the procedure?
- 5. Can members “opt out”?
A class action in California is a lawsuit that resolves a common issue of liability and/or damages affecting a large group of people. The primary legal authority in California is Code of Civil Procedure § 382 on “permissive joinder.” CCP 382 provides, in relevant part:
“[W]hen the question is one of a common or general interest, of many persons, or when the parties are numerous, and it is impracticable to bring them all before the court, one or more may sue or defend for the benefit of all.”
People can bring these types of lawsuits in many types of state law and federal law cases. Employment class actions often involve large-scale, complex legal issues regarding independent contractor misclassification, unpaid wages and unpaid overtime pay, minimum wages, overtime wages, rest breaks, meal breaks, other wage and hour violations, and similar grievances under California labor law and employment law.
Other common reasons for class action suits include data breaches, false advertising, and other matters related to consumer protection that affect a large number of people.
Class actions are particularly useful for cases where each class member is seeking a relatively small amount of money (like after being overcharged on a cable bill or other utility bill). Bringing an individual lawsuit would not be worth the expense, but bringing a class action would.
Any potential plaintiff can initiate the process in California. The first step is to file a lawsuit and move for certification.
The court then decides whether the proposed class action claim meets the requirements for certification. At this point, the judge does not consider the underlying merits of the case. He or she only determines whether the claims should be tried under CCP 382.1
To get a certification in California, the plaintiff must establish that there is “an ascertainable class” and a “well-defined community of interest among  members.”2
“Community of interest” is determined by three factors:
- Predominant common questions of law or fact;
- Class representatives with claims or defenses typical of all the members of the class; and
- Representatives who can adequately represent all the class members.
Plaintiffs must also establish that resolving the claims in this type of lawsuit would “provide substantial benefits” to both the courts and the litigants.3 This involves showing that this type of lawsuit is superior to alternative methods of resolving the dispute(s), including individual litigation.4
Once the class is certified, the case moves forward as a lawsuit.
The court will notify potential members of the case by mailing them legal notice of the claim (usually at the plaintiff’s expense).
The notice will explain what the class action case is about and the rights of each member.
(The claimant who pursued the class action is often the named plaintiff in the case, but not always.)
Members usually have the right to “opt out” of class actions or proposed settlements in California. The opt-out procedure will be explained in the legal notice sent by the court.
A member who opts out retains the right to file an individual lawsuit. A member who does nothing will be bound by any settlement or decision in the lawsuit.
If the class action litigation is eventually resolved in the plaintiff’s favor (either by trial or settlement) the court will notify members how to make a claim for relief. In such a case, the defendant will usually be ordered to pay the plaintiffs’ fees and costs – including attorneys’ fees and court costs.
In California, the vast majority of these lawsuits end up being resolved by a class action settlement.5
Note that class actions are not the same thing as multi-district litigations (MDLs). MDLs are like class actions in that similarly injured plaintiffs join together to sue the same defendant in an effort to expedite litigation and save costs. But MDLs are fundamentally different from class actions because MDL plaintiffs’ cases remain separate. MDLs are common in mass tort claims involving defective medical devices or dangerous drugs.
Contact us for help…
If you have been the victim of a wrongful act in California, we invite you to contact our class action attorneys for legal advice.
Call us at our phone number or fill out the form on this page. Our class action lawyers have offices throughout the state including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Riverside, and more. Our practice areas include personal injury law, labor law, and mass tort law. And we appear in state courts and federal courts throughout California including district courts and the Ninth Circuit.
- Lindner vs. Thrifty Oil (2000) 23 Cal.4th 429; see, for example, Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel, (California Supreme Court, 2021), 11 Cal.5th 858. See also CACI 115 – ““Class Action” Defined (Plaintiff Class)”.
- Sav-On Drug Stores v. Superior Court (2004) 34 Cal. 4th 319.
- Bell v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (2004) 115 Cal.App.4th 715. La Sala v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 5 Cal.3d 864.
- Daar v. Yellow Cab Co, (1967) 67 Cal. 2d 695; Vasquez v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 800. Note that federal class actions are governed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 23 and 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332(d).
- According to the February 2010 report Class Certification in California by the Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts, “Eighty-nine percent of cases  ended in settlement while only 15 percent of cases with no  certification ended in settlement.” Note that in the 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated through various decisions that arbitration is often preferable to class actions. The Court also sanctioned the use of class action waivers.