If you have sustained injuries as a result of someone else’s conduct, you could have grounds for filing a personal injury lawsuit. This is irrespective of whether the defendant’s conduct was intentional or not. A lawsuit of this kind can either be resolved through a verdict or a settlement. Perhaps you have heard about settlements and verdicts being recovered for the injured party, and you’re probably wondering what the difference between the two is. It is imperative that you know which kind of outcome will be in your best interest. This article will address the two terms, providing you with a clear picture of how they differ as well as how they may affect you. It further sheds light on class action lawsuits, including how to join and win in one.
What is a Settlement?
A settlement denotes an arrangement where the plaintiff and the defendant to a lawsuit decide to abandon legal proceedings and instead, reach an out-of-court agreement. Personal injury lawsuits can either be filed by the victims of wrongful conducts or their representatives. Such a lawsuit is filed against the individual or company whose negligent or wrongful conduct caused the injury. A negotiated agreement between the plaintiff and defendant can either be reached before or during civil court proceedings. When the plaintiff offers a certain amount of payment to settle the matter out-of-court, the defendant has the option to accept, counter, or deny the offer.
What is a Verdict?
A verdict denotes a judgment or decision that is reached by a jury or judge in legal proceedings. When a civil lawsuit goes to trial, the jury is tasked with hearing both sides of the matter, subsequently evaluating the evidence to establish whether the defendant is guilty or not. Personal injury lawsuits are different from criminal trials because in the latter case, the jury has to unanimously find the defendant guilty.
In contrast to criminal trials, civil lawsuits require the majority of jurors to establish the defendant’s guilt, and the burden of proof is hardly as strict. While the criminal courts require the defendant’s guilt to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, the civil court’s burden of proof is a preponderance of evidence in favor of the plaintiff. In simple terms, preponderance denotes a majority; the jury is only required to find it more likely that the plaintiff’s wrongdoing caused the defendant’s injuries.
In the event that the court finds the defendant to be guilty, the jury is further tasked with determining the appropriate amount of financial compensation to be paid to the plaintiff. This is achieved by reviewing both the ongoing and future medical expenses, lost earnings, as well as the emotional impact of the injuries on the plaintiff. This will, however, vary based on the unique circumstances of each case.
In conclusion, a settlement is reached when the parties to a lawsuit voluntarily reach an agreement to resolve the matter out court. On the other hand, a verdict is reached when a judge or jury establishes the outcome of a particular lawsuit. An out-of-court settlement is often reached in both parties’ best interests in avoiding the expenses and time associated with a drawn-out court battle. However, whether your case goes to court will depend on such circumstances as the defendant’s willingness to pay you a fair settlement coupled with your tenacity to seek maximum reimbursement; even if it means going to trial. It is, therefore, imperative that you consult with your attorney way ahead of time in determining whether settling the matter out of court is in your best interest.
How to Join a Class Action Lawsuit
If you are among a group of people who have suffered similar injuries that were caused by the same action or product, you could choose to sue the defendant as a group. A class action lawsuit is often filed by people seeking justice after sustaining injuries caused by defective products like motor vehicles, pharmaceutical drugs, and medical devices. Such a suit will also emanate from such wrongful conducts as consumer fraud, securities fraud, corporate misconduct, as well as employment practices.
The majority of class actions do not require you to do anything to qualify to join the lawsuit. In fact, most of them are opt-out lawsuits. It implies that class members whose legal interests the lawsuit represents are automatically included in it unless they elect to opt out or otherwise decline to participate in the cases.
In the event that your legal rights are impacted by a class action, you will often require getting involved after the matter has been settled. In the majority of cases, you are simply required to submit a claim either via mail or online after which you will receive your entitled portion of the settlement. Detailed information on how to go about it can be found in the class notice that will be supplied to you through the mail. However, some actions, especially those dealing with wage and hour violation could be opt-in cases. This implies that you have to affirmatively elect to participate in the suit. Again, detailed instructions on how to go about that will be contained in the class notice.
While most defective prescription drugs and medical devices usually affect a mass of people, lawsuits involving such are often not handled as class actions. Instead, every affected individual by the defective medical device or drug is required to file an individual lawsuit to seek compensation for the harm suffered.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit?
As mentioned above, a class action lawsuit is instituted when a group of people suffers similar or identical injuries. Often, such injuries are so minor that it would be illogical to pursue individual legal redress. Suing together as a group implies that the overall value of the claims of that particular class adds up. Instituting a legal lawsuit as a class requires consolidating the evidence, witnesses, defendants, and attorneys, among other aspects of the litigation.
If a defective product or wrongful conduct of the plaintiff affects a large number of people, it becomes impractical and sometimes, impossible to file individual lawsuits. After gaining the relevant permission to file a class lawsuit, the affected group instigates the action through a representative plaintiff, also known as lead plaintiff or named plaintiff. There are numerous instances of class lawsuits. Some are comprised of a group of disgruntled employees that were subjected to racial discrimination. Other instances include a neighborhood of residents whose families sustained injuries after consuming a toxic pill or a group of patients whose prescriptions were comprised of drugs with harmful side effects. It could also comprise of a number of corporate investors who suffered fraud during their purchase or sale of stocks, among other securities.
If you are likely to be affected by the court’s ruling pertaining to a particular class action, you are entitled to receive a notice indicating the commencement of the lawsuit. While it is virtually impossible to supply all the individuals affected by the class action with a personal notice, such people are entitled to the best notification possible. For instance, the court may instruct the class representative through their lawyer to make reasonable attempts in notifying all the known and unknown class members. This can be achieved by advertising in general media like newspapers, television, magazines, or posted flyers. The court is mandated to customize the required notice on the basis of the particular circumstances of the case.
Upon notification, the affected class members can either decide to opt in or out. In some peculiar cases, class members are not given a chance to decline participation. This is especially true if the class action pertains to specific injuries emanating from the conduct or product from a particular defendant. In such cases, all the parties who are similarly situated are automatically included in the class and are compelled to live with the outcome.
How Long Does a Class Action Lawsuit Take?
Most class action lawsuits are expected to take at least 1-3 years before a resolution can be reached. However, the process could take much longer whereas, in rare circumstances, it could be over in less than a year. The time taken to culminate these cases is attributable to the fact that even the simplest cases have to proceed through many formal stages that include the following.
- Filling of an original complaint
- The plaintiffs’ petitions certifying the case to be a class action
- Issuance of a certificate order
- Formal notification of the eligible class members
- Gathering of evidence by the lawyers from both sides of the case. At this stage, the lawyers also share evidence and interview witnesses, among other aspects that are meant to build their cases.
- Negotiations for settlement take place. In the event that no settlement can be reached, the matter is taken to trial.
- Upon reaching a proposed agreement, the judge supplies a preliminary approval of the settlement or otherwise orders the appropriate modifications.
- Subsequent to the public hearing, the approval of the settlement follows shortly
- Class members receive notifications of the settlement after which claims are processed, and the settlement funds are distributes following calculation of the recoveries
Even where the circumstances are ideal, and the case is simple with a few procedural delays, involving a relatively small group of parties, or in an uncrowded court docket, a class action is bound to last long. This is because the above-mentioned steps often take a fair amount of time to unfold. You should anticipate for the case to take much longer if it is complex and in case there are numerous parties, or where disputes are raised.
What Can you Win in Class Action Lawsuit?
The majority of class action lawsuits are settled way before going to trial. In the event that a settlement is evasive and the lawsuit actually goes to trial, the case will culminate in a jury verdict that favors either the class or the defendant. In other cases, the class action can be summarily dismissed.
If you opted in or otherwise didn’t opt out of a class action, you will be entitled to receive the benefits in the event that any recoveries are made. Cash is the most obvious form of a class action recovery; it is, however, not unusual to receive non-monetary recoveries. In case of an out-of-court statement, the terms are negotiated and agreed upon by the lawyers from either side of the lawsuit. These lawyers must, however, obtain a final court approval.
In rare instances, the settlement specifies the exact amount to be received by each claimant. The most common scenario is where the settlement is given in a lump sum and subsequently divided among the entire group of eligible claimants. What each claimant receives is determined by the total number of filed claims. The recovery can also be divided among the claimants relative to the proportion of their individual damages.
Non-monetary recoveries are also included in some cases. These include coupons, among other similar vouchers that can access free merchandise or purchase discounts in the future. In other cases, a recovery could constitute a mandate to the defendant in place of a financial award. For example, the court could order the defendant to take particular actions like enhancing their consumer protection or improving their business practices. If the class action proceeds to trial and a verdict favoring the plaintiff is given, the class is awarded an aggregate sum of damages. The class members receive the damages through a non-adversarial administrative claims procedure that is distributed and overseen by the court.
Class actions will often involve extensive research as compared to the typical individual lawsuit. You will, therefore, want to work closely with a knowledgeable attorney in gathering evidence to show that the defendant’s actions or product harmed you as a member of the class. In the majority of class action, you will be automatically included in a class unless, of course, you decline and opt out. Upon joining the class, you will be entitled to compensation emanating from the suit, but you will have waived your rights to file a separate lawsuit. Therefore, if you can show that you sustained more injuries than the other members of the class, you will want to consult with a lawyer to establish whether it’s more prudent to exclude yourself from it.