In class action lawsuits there are a large number of plaintiffs with similar claims. Generally, there are a select number of named plaintiffs. These plaintiffs are representatives of the larger group. Individuals who do not opt out of class action suits usually relinquish their rights to independently sue outside of the class action.
When a large number of people are harmed a relatively small amount by a company, it can be difficult for them to protect their rights. Large companies hire teams of attorneys to prolong a case on for years and only people that have suffered an extreme amount of damages can afford to hire an attorney. Class action lawsuits are designed to address this problem. With the large number of plaintiffs and the potential for substantial damage awards, a law firm can work on a class action case on contingency, which costs the plaintiffs nothing during the proceedings and allows the plaintiffs to have access to a high quality team of attorneys.
Class actions must get court approval or certification. In many ways class action lawsuits are similar to mass tort lawsuits such as Topamax lawsuits, vaginal mesh lawsuits or Actos lawsuits. When determining whether to certify a class action there are four factors that a court will consider. These factors are numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy of representation.
Numerosity means that there are too many people affected to efficiently have their own lawsuit. There is not a mathematical formula but the minimum number of people to get a class certified is generally somewhere between 25 and 50.
Commonality means that potential members of the class have similar claims which generally involve the same facts or circumstances. Typicality means that the claims of the class representatives are typical of the claims of the rest of the class members. Generally, if there is commonality there is typicality unless the proposed class representatives are particularly poorly chosen.
Adequacy of representation requires that the proposed class representatives be in a position to protect the interests of the class members as a group. The reason for this requirement is that members of the class will be obligated to live with the results of the class action and the decisions that the class representatives make.