Frequently Asked Questions: Class Actions

A class action is a lawsuit where one person or a small group of people represent a larger group with similar claims (the “Class”) against one or more defendants. 

It allows individuals to collectively seek justice and compensation without filing separate lawsuits. By allowing individuals with the same or similar issues to pool resources, class actions provide access to justice by making legal action more affordable and efficient. Class actions also ensure consistent rulings and settlements for all class members and can lead to significant policy or behavior changes by defendants. 

Any individual or small group who has been affected by the same issue can initiate a class action, provided they have a legal claim against the defendant(s) and can adequately represent the interests of the Class. 

The individual, or small group, starting the claim on behalf of the Class, is called a “representative plaintiff”. This person or group acts as the lead plaintiff(s) and works closely with the lawyers to manage the case and represent the interests of the entire class throughout the legal process. The representative plaintiff must have claims that are typical of the class and share common issues with other class members. They must not have any conflict of interest with other class members and must be able to fairly and adequately protect the interests of all class members.

A plaintiff is a person or group who initiates a lawsuit in court by filing a complaint against one or more other parties, known as the defendant(s). The plaintiff seeks legal remedy for an alleged wrong or injury caused by the defendant(s). In a class action, the representative plaintiff brings the case on behalf of a larger group with similar claims.

Certification is a court process where a judge decides whether a proposed class action lawsuit may proceed as a class action. A judge must determine, among other factors, whether the proposed class members share common issues and if a class action is the best method to resolve these issues. This is called the “certification motion.” If the judge finds that the case meets all the certification requirements, they will issue an order certifying the lawsuit as a class action. 

No, in most cases, you don’t need to do anything to join a class action. If you fall within the class definition, and the case is certified, you are automatically included unless you choose to opt out.

One exception is that for class actions certified in Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick, a non-resident of that province must opt-in to a class proceeding in order to be part of the class. 

If you don’t want to be part of the class action, you can opt-out. Opting out means you retain the right to sue the defendant(s) individually but won’t share in any settlement or judgment from the class action.

In most cases, we have an Intake Form that seeks information from you related to the class action. This is not a “registration” for the class action. Instead, it provides us with helpful information about characteristics of the class and contact information so that we can update contacts with any important information as the action proceeds. If you choose not to fill out an Intake Form, that does not have any bearing on your membership in the class, or ability to opt out later.

It is also important to retain all documents and records that you feel may be relevant to your claim, for potential use in the future. There is typically no need to send such documents to us at the outset of the action, but we may request such information as the case proceeds, or it may be required for you to ultimately be compensated in the event there is a settlement. 

If the case is certified, it proceeds as a class action. 

You will typically be notified by mail, email, or via public notices if a class action affects you. Details about the class action and your rights will be included in these notifications. The Court approves how the notice of certification is distributed. However, there are some cases where a class member may not receive or see the notice or be aware that a case has been certified. That is why it is beneficial to contact the legal team working on the class action, so there is a direct line of communication to receive such notices. 

Once certified, the class action will then proceed through the typical steps of a lawsuit, including disclosure of documents between the parties to the case, discoveries (questioning a possible witness in the case under oath), gathering evidence, and setting dates for the common issues trial.

A common issues trial in a class action is a trial where the court decides on the issues that are shared by all members of the class. These common issues are central to the case and typically pertain to the defendant’s conduct and whether it was illegal or harmful to the class members. The outcome of a common issues trial helps to determine the defendant’s liability and can streamline the process for resolving individual claims within the class. If the common issues are resolved in favor of the class, further proceedings may be needed to address individual damages or specific circumstances of class members.

No, a class action does not always go to trial. Many class actions are resolved through settlements before reaching the common issues trial stage. Settlements occur when both parties agree on a resolution, often involving compensation for the class members, without the need for a trial. If a settlement is reached, it must be approved by the court to ensure it is fair and reasonable for all class members. If no settlement is reached, the case may proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will make a final decision on the issues.

No, you don’t need to hire your own lawyer to join a class action. The representative plaintiff’s lawyers (“Class Counsel”) handle the case on behalf of all class members.

Settlements are distributed based on a plan approved by the court. The plan typically outlines how the settlement funds will be divided among class members and any processes for making claims.

Class members generally do not pay legal fees directly. The lawyers for the class work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if the case is won or settled, taking a percentage of the awarded amount. The legal fees are reviewed and must be approved by the court. 

The duration of a class action can vary widely, often taking several years to reach a resolution due to the complexity of the issues and the legal processes involved.

Additional Articles