Class Action Legal Definition

What is a Class Action?” 

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Class Action Legal Definition

Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015. © Government Publishing Office

Class Action legal definition: A class action is a type of civil lawsuit. It differs from typical lawsuits, where a plaintiff sues a defendant and all parties are represented in court. In class action cases, there is:

  • A representative plaintiff
  • An attorney appointed to represent the class 

The function of a class action lawsuit is to allow a group of plaintiffs to bring a complaint against a defendant in a single proceeding. The most common class action suits involve a large group of people – generally more than 40 – who have all claimed to be injured in the same way by the same person or product. 

It should be noted that once a class action complaint is filed, a court must certify the class before the case can move forward – a procedure that differs from state to state.

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Class Actions in Car Accident Injury Cases

Class actions are not typical in traditional car accident injury cases. However, class action suits have been initiated in cases where a mechanical error or other defect is liable. Examples include:

  • A class-action was initiated against airbag manufacturer Takata following numerous reports that drivers had been injured or killed when their airbags ruptured upon activation because of a design defect.
  • Motor vehicle giant GM was the subject of a class action lawsuit over faulty ignition switches that prompted the recall of 30 million vehicles. Faulty ignition switches were said to be responsible for more than 100 deaths.


Class Action in Medical Malpractice Cases

In recent years there have been several high-profile class action lawsuits related to medical errors. In these class actions, a group of plaintiffs with similar injuries or illnesses file suit against the party liable for associated damages

Dangerous drugs and defective medical devices have been the subject of class action suits in recent years. Some examples include:

  • A class action suit was filed against Zofran, a medication prescribed to treat symptoms of morning sickness and later found to cause birth defects.
  • A class action suit was brought against the makers of the blood thinner Xarelto. Widely prescribed, the medication was found to cause severe and, in some cases, unstoppable internal bleeding.
  • Class action lawsuits filed against defective medical devices like Essure, an implantable form of birth control that caused serious complications in some women.


Class Action in Personal Injury Cases

In order for a class action to be certified in a personal injury lawsuit, certain requirements must be met. They include:

  1. A representative plaintiff has suffered the same type of injuries or illness as the class being proposed
  2. The class must be clearly defined
  3. The size of the class is large enough to make separate court actions impractical and inefficient
  4. There is a common set of facts underlying all associated complaints




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