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What is a class action lawsuit?

Residents of California have probably heard of class action lawsuits. In fact, some residents may even have received legal notices that they are potential plaintiffs in a class action suit regarding a product, company or service. But what, exactly, are class action lawsuits?

In some cases, class actions begin with a single plaintiff or a few plaintiffs. Those individuals file a suit against a company or other entity, often alleging that a product was misrepresented, is dangerous or caused injury. During the plaintiff's investigation, those bringing the lawsuit may realize that the injuries aren't isolated. In some cases, the individuals know that injuries or damages may be widespread even before the suit is filed.

The plaintiffs must work through the courts to seek approval for a class action measure. Notifications are then sent to every person or entity who might be impacted by a decision in the class action suit. This is why some individuals receive those notifications in the mail. Courts order class representatives to make reasonable attempts at notifying any potential plaintiff -- in addition to mailings, representatives may also use things such as television advertisements or space in newspaper or magazines.

It sounds complex, but class action suits are actually more efficient than hundreds or thousands of people suing a defendant individually. Class actions also allow single individuals to band together to present a larger presence, which can be helpful when dealing with large companies that have access to seemingly unending legal resources.

Once a class action judgment is reached, that judgment applies to all members of the class. In most cases, that even includes individuals who didn't identify as a class member or go to court against a defendant. Exceptions exist for almost every rule, of course, which is why it's essential to seek in-depth assistance in a class action case.

Source: FindLaw, "Class Action Cases" Aug. 15, 2014

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