Class actions are lawsuits brought against a company by a large group of people.
Those who join a class action suit may number anywhere from the thousands to millions, depending on the product or service and cause of damage.
Class action law suits are usually filed for damages caused by companies overcharging or failing to provide services; or for sexual harassment; illegal job hiring practices, or other forms of discrimination.
products, or those later found to be dangerous - such as tobacco,
asbestos, medical devices, or automobiles - have also been the subject of large class action suits.
people are taken in by any type of illegal company activity,
or become injured while using a shoddy, unhealthy or defective product,
joining together in a class action suit may be the most cost-effective
way of recouping loses.
Pros & cons of class action lawsuits
Results of legal battles involving large groups of people against big corporations have captured the popular imagination in Hollywood movies such as Erin Brockovich. which dramatized the millions paid out by California's Pacific Gas &
Electric in 1993 to victims of toxic
pollution and their families.
Proponents also say that suing through class actions can right many wrongs against people
who could not otherwise afford to launch an individual lawsuit.
The completion of a simple form, and a postage stamp, is usually
the only cost of joining a class action suit.
However, the winning results of class action lawsuits awarded on the silver screen are far from the norm, say critics. Although it may seem as though petitioners come away with enough of a settlement to justify the time and effort it takes to go through the legal process, it is rarely worth it.
Fifty million dollars may sound like a very big award for a class action suit, but if it involves 50,000 claimants, individual payments may amount to only a few hundred dollars each after court costs and legal fees are deducted.
In some scenarios, settlements may only amount to discount coupons for future purchases of the shoddy product or service in question. (Yes, it happens.)
Meanwhile, law firms who file such suits walk away with millions in legal fees.
Finally, remember that if you agree to be part of a class action suit, you will normally waive your right to sue as an individual if you feel that the class action settlement was unfair.
the Web, find out more aboutother famous class action
settlements, the latest news on law suits now underway, opinion
on the moral implications of these legal cases, tips on participating in a class
action suit (and when not to), and related information on consumer
protection laws and product
More information about class action lawsuits around the Web: