You have probably come across the term “bellwether trials” or “class action lawsuits”. These are no ordinary lawsuits because they involve different procedures and legal concepts. Here is an informative resource on bellwether trials and class action suits.
What is a Bellwether Trial?
Bellwether trials refer to a small collection of lawsuits, selected from a bigger collection of similar cases, to be deal with first. The ruling on bellwether trials acts as a guide on how similar cases might be judged. Bellwether is a term derived from an ancient practice of tying a bell around the neck of lead sheep in a flock to allow a shepherd to monitor the flock’s movement from a distance. Hence the word bellwether was formed to mean one that indicates trends.
Bellwether trials apply to multidistrict litigation (MDL), a legal practice of consolidating a group of similar lawsuits filed in different districts. These lawsuits are consolidated into one district to make it easy to conduct pretrial discovery. MDLs consist of thousands of lawsuits which makes it difficult for these cases to be resolved quickly. For these cases to be resolved fast, a couple of bellwether trials are chosen. The result of these trials, which are selected on the assumption that they represent the whole MDL class, are not binding on the remaining lawsuits but help show the direction of these cases. In bellwether trials, each side is given the opportunity to determine the strength of their evidence and how it will affect the court’s decision.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff in a majority of the bellwether cases, and if the compensation paid to the plaintiff is high, it is highly likely that the defendant will be required to settle the rest of the cases. However, if the court rules in favor of the defendant in bellwether trials, there is a high likelihood that the defendant will excel in the remaining cases.
Benefits of Bellwether Trials
While many plaintiffs and defendants may be disappointed when their cases are not part of those chosen for bellwether trials, this could work towards their advantage. Bellwether trials have two main benefits: they act as test runs for future cases and present opportunities for future strategic planning. Judges, plaintiffs, and defendants are all keen during bellwether proceedings as they are able to get a rough idea of how juries are going to rule in these cases. The plaintiffs and defendants are also able to see the weakness in their cases and how the other side is likely to attack their arguments. Bellwether trials offer plaintiffs and defendants the chance to form a strategy that will give them favorable results.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action lawsuit is a case where a group of people with similar injuries arising from the same action or product sue the at-fault party as a group. The other names for these lawsuits include mass tort litigation and multi district litigation. People seek justice in the form of class action lawsuits in cases where their injuries are caused by defective products like motor vehicles, medical devices, pharmaceutical drugs, and other consumer products. People also use class actions in cases involving corporate misconduct, consumer fraud, employment practices, and securities fraud.
A common type of class action case is the “mass tort” action. This is a multi-party lawsuit involving a massive accident like a plane crash, in which case many people sustain injuries. A mass tort action may also apply in the case of widespread personal injuries caused by a defective product like a medical device.
Why a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action is mainly used when a couple of people suffer similar or the same injuries. In most cases, the injuries of the individuals are minor and they cannot seek legal redress alone. However, as a class, the value of their claims increases. Furthermore, when the injured parties sue as a group, they have the advantage of consolidating attorneys, evidence, witnesses, defendants, and other elements of the litigation. The cost of litigation is also low compared to individual lawsuits.When the number of people affected by a person’s conduct or product is high, it is impractical for all of them to file lawsuits. The best alternative is for the group to file a lawsuit with one plaintiff, also known as the named or lead plaintiff, at the forefront.
Opting In and Opting Out
Everyone who will be affected by the court’s ruling in a class action should be notified when the action starts. The court will order the class representative through their attorneys to make reasonable effort to notify the unknown class members by media such as an advertisement in the newspaper, a posted flyer, or through television.Anyone notified about the class action has the chance to join the action, also known as opting in, or choose not to take part in the action, also known as opting out. There are cases where an individual does not have the chance to opt out. This applies in cases where an action has been filed over specific injuries caused by a specific defendant whereby all those who sustained similar injuries are automatically included in the class and have to live with the court ruling.
How Long Does a Class Action Last?
A class action typically lasts between 1 -3 years or longer depending on the circumstances of a particular case. However, even simple cases must pass through numerous basic stages, including:
- Filing an original complaint: A complaint will be filed by the attorneys on behalf of their clients
- Response: The defendant(s) will respond with either an answer, a motion to dismiss, or some other legal action. If the defendant files a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff will have to justify their claim before the court approves the case.
- Discovery: Both sides will disclose to each other crucial information that supports their respective cases. This stage involves exchange of evidence, questioning, and interviewing of witnesses.
- Certification Request: A petition to the court to classify a case as a class action
- Certification Opposed: Defendant opposes the certification request
- The issuing of a certification order: Court grants an order recognizing the case as a class action
- Notification of eligible class members: All members who are part of the class action are notified about the case and have the option of opting in or out
- Settlement negotiations: If a settlement is not reached, the case will proceed to trial
- Proposed settlement: If a settlement is reached, the judge will provide their approval, or order for modifications of the proposed settlement
- Approval of the settlement: The settlement is approved after a public hearing
- Notice of the settlement is sent to class members: After class members are informed about the settlement, the claims are processed, and the funds are distributed equally.
- Trial: If the case does not reach a settlement, a judge or jury will deliver the final judgment
- Appeal: If the plaintiffs do not get a favorable ruling, they will appeal their case to a higher level court.
The duration of a class action lawsuit is not fixed and will vary depending on a number of factors. For example, a case that only reaches the settlement stage ends faster than one that goes through trial and later to an appeal court. A case could end fast when the plaintiffs in a class action decides to dismiss their lawsuit even before the settlement stage because of insufficient evidence. All in all, the duration of a class lawsuit is determined by the complexities of the case, and the stages that the case will pass through before it is finalized.
What Can I Win in a Class Action Lawsuit?
Most class action lawsuits are settled before they reach trial. If you are a member of the class, you are entitled to receive the proceeds of any recovery. The obvious kind of recovery is cash; however, non-monetary damages are also common.
During a settlement, the terms of the agreement will be agreed upon between the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ attorneys and must have the court’s approval. The agreement will contain details about the settlement, how it is going to be allocated among the class members, and the requirements that members have to satisfy to qualify for a share in the settlement. In some cases, when a class action is settled, a settlement website is launched. The website address will be indicated in the settlement notice issued to the class members. To receive their share of the settlement, the class members are required to log into the website and fill a claims form. This form will require a class member to indicate why they are entitled to receive compensation. In class action lawsuits involving a few members and minor claims, class members may receive their settlement proceeds automatically without submitting a claims form. In such cases, the class members will receive a letter or email stating that their account has been credited by the settlement amount.
A monetary settlement specifies the amount of money that will be given to each claimant. In most cases, the settlement amount is divided among the number of claimants- in this case; the amount of money each claimant gets will depend on the number of claims that will be filed. Alternatively, the total settlement will be divided among the claimants in proportion to their respective losses.
Non-monetary recoveries include coupons or vouchers for future purchase discounts or for free products. A recovery may forego monetary awards for class members but instead order that the defendant take certain measures, like enhancing consumer protections or changing their business activities. If a class action ends up in trial and there is a judgment or verdict favoring the plaintiff, a total sum of damages will be given to the class. The damages will be distributed among class members via an administrative claims procedure that is supervised by the court. If a settlement from a class action is not claimed for a particular duration of time, it may distributed among the remaining class members, returned to the defendant, or donated to a charity.
How to Join a Class Action Lawsuit
Class actions are not suited for all plaintiffs. When determining whether or not to join a class action or to pursue a private lawsuit, you need to consider the amount of losses you have incurred. Class actions are a means of sharing litigation expenses among plaintiffs with minor individual losses, and for whom individual lawsuits do not make sense. If the losses or injuries you have incurred amount to a significant amount, like $100,000 and above, it may be sensible to file a private lawsuit. Therefore, before filing a class action lawsuit, consult a lawyer to determine whether it is financial feasible.
For example, if a bank is charging its clients an illegal fee of $100. You can file a lawsuit to recover $100. However, this small amount does not justify the legal costs you would have to pay. But if a million clients of the same bank joined together to file a class action with each member claiming $100, that is a $100 million case and all the fees would be shared among all the plaintiffs.
There is no cost or requirement for joining a class action lawsuit. The attorney fees are normally paid once the settlement is paid out to the class members. Under this agreement, the lawyers pay for the litigation costs up front. When the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the lawyers are paid their fees out of the settlement amount.
A majority of class actions are “opt-out” lawsuits. In opt-out lawsuits, class members are part of the lawsuit unless they decide to drop out of the case, a legal concept known as opting out. In general, you are not required to take any action to be part of a class action. You will know that you are covered by a class action lawsuit when you receive a class notice. If a class action affects your legal rights, you only need to be involved when the case is settled. In some cases, you only need to make a claim to get your share of the settlement. Information on how to claim your settlement will be included in the class notice issued to you before the lawsuit begins.
Some class actions involving wage and hour violations are opt-in cases. In these cases, you need to choose to participate in the lawsuit. Information on how to participate in the lawsuit will be included in the class notice.