Law Offices of  George A. Barton, P.C.

Practice Page - Class Actions

Understanding Class Action Lawsuits

The class action lawsuit is one of the more high-profile types of legal action, frequently mentioned in the news media. But what is a class action, and how is it different from a traditional lawsuit? Below we address these questions.

At the Law Offices of George A. Barton, P.C., our attorneys have helped consumers bring class action lawsuits in products liability, fraud and many other types of cases. These suits have helped protect people against dangerous products, misleading service contracts and other corporate abuses.

Based in Kansas City, Missouri, our lawyers take on local cases as well as those that are national in scope. Read more about our class action practice, or contact us to schedule a no-cost consultation.

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Class Actions Resource Links

Manual for Complex Litigation, Fourth
This website contains the fourth edition of the Manual for Complex Litigation provided by the Federal Judicial Center.

Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation
The Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation, known as the MDL Panel, determines whether civil actions pending in different federal districts should be centralized to one federal district for proceedings.

Managing Class Action Litigation: A Pocket Guide for Judges (PDF)
This website contains a guide for managing class action litigation provided by the Federal Judicial Center.

Class-Action Fairness Act (PDF)
This website contains a copy of the Class-Action Fairness Act provided by the Government Printing Office (GPO).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23
This website contains the text of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In federal courts, class actions are governed by this rule.

Class Actions - An Overview

A "class action" lawsuit is one in which a group of people with the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action sue the defendant as a group. Other names for lawsuits brought by a number of people who suffered similar harm or losses are "mass tort litigation" and "multi-district litigation" ("MDL"). People seek justice in class action lawsuits when their injuries have been caused by, among other things, defective products, including pharmaceutical drugs, motor vehicles and other consumer products, and medical devices. Other types of conduct over which people have sued as a class include consumer fraud, corporate misconduct, securities fraud, and employment practices. A type of class action lawsuit is the "mass tort" action. Mass tort litigation is a multi-party lawsuit based on a massive accident, such as an airplane crash, in which many people are injured or widespread personal injuries caused by a defective product, such as a medical device.

If you have been harmed by a product or corporation and you think there are others in your situation, consult legal counsel from the law firm of Law Offices of George A. Barton, P.C. in Kansas City, MO, who is experienced in representing classes of people in this specific type of lawsuit.

The class action vehicle is used generally when a number of people have suffered the same or similar injuries. Often many of the individuals' injuries were relatively minor, such that they might not pursue legal redress on their own. Together, however, the value of the claims of the class add up, and suing as a class means consolidating the attorneys, defendant, evidence, witnesses, and most other aspects of the litigation. If the number of people affected by the product or conduct is high, it becomes impractical or even impossible for them to file individual lawsuits. When a class action is permitted, the group files the lawsuit with a representative plaintiff, called a "named plaintiff" or "lead plaintiff," at the forefront.

There are many examples of class action lawsuits. A class may consist of a group of employees who were subjected to race discrimination, a number of patients who were prescribed a drug with injurious side effects, a neighborhood of residents whose homes or families were injured by a toxic spill, all the consumers who purchased a defective product that caused them injuries, or corporate investors who suffered fraud in the purchase or sale of stocks and other securities.

Notice to Potential Class Members

Every person who would be affected by the court's decision in the class action is entitled to notice that the action has started. Although it usually is not possible to give every such individual personal notice, all persons who might be affected are entitled to the best notice possible. The court will order that the class representative, through his or her attorneys, make reasonable attempts to notify any unknown class members by general media such as television, an advertisement in a magazine or newspaper, or a posted flyer. The court will tailor the type of notice required to the particular facts of the case. Those people who are notified then have the opportunity to join in the action-called "opting in"-or to decide not participate as a member of the class-that is, to "opt out." In some cases, individuals don't have the opportunity to opt out. For example, if a class action has been filed over particular injuries caused by a particular defendant, all people who are similarly situated are automatically in the class and must live with the outcome.

Why Class Actions?

A benefit of the class action format is its efficiency. The class action lawsuit brings together and disposes of thousands of claims at one time that are impractical to litigate individually. The judge decides the basic question of who wins with regard to the entire group. If the defendant wins, the class lawsuit is dismissed and the individuals in the group are prohibited from filing new or individual lawsuits over the same issue against the same defendant. If the class of plaintiffs wins, the court finds the defendant liable for the plaintiffs' injuries, and the amount of recovery is later divided among the plaintiffs.

Because it aggregates small claims, the class action format lowers the high cost of litigation. Also, class actions are usually brought by attorneys who are particularly trained and experienced in litigating and managing complicated lawsuits.

Another benefit of the class action is that it seeks to ensure that all injured plaintiffs receive something. It may be the case that the defendant is bankrupt or for some other reason cannot afford to pay each individual the full amount necessary to cover his or her losses. When the class wins the lawsuit, each participant receives some payment, even if it is not an amount to fully cover damages. Absent a class action, payment by the defendant would be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Class Action Judgments

In a class action, the court's decision applies to every participant who has opted into the class. All individuals who fit within the court's original definition of a class member are bound by the final court decision, even if they never actually go to court or otherwise participate in the lawsuit.

Payment to the participants in the class action usually follows a "plan of distribution." With the help of the parties and their attorneys, the judge develops the plan to distribute the amount that the plaintiff class won in the lawsuit minus the attorneys' fees and litigation costs. Each member of the class may receive certain percentage of the total amount fund, or may receive a certain dollar figure. In some cases, the attorneys seek and obtain permission for an individualized, in depth review of each participant's claim, so as to tailor the amount awarded to each class member to the "value" of his or her claim. This method is relatively rare, however, especially in large class actions.

When the parties in a class action lawsuit decide to settle, the presiding judge must approve the settlement, making sure it is fair to all parties.

Speak to a Lawyer

Class actions are a highly effective and efficient form of civil litigation. If you have been injured by a product's side effects or an environmental spill in your neighborhood, the best means of redress is a class action. Accordingly, you should not hesitate to contact the firm of Law Offices of George A. Barton, P.C. in Kansas City, MO, to have one of its experienced attorneys evaluate the potential of your case as a class action.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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The Kansas City Law Offices of George A. Barton, P.C., represents business clients and individuals throughout Missouri, including communities such as Kansas City, Independence, Lee's Summit, Overland Park, Liberty, and St. Louis, Missouri. We also represent plaintiffs in class action lawsuits and oil company disputes nationally, including states such as Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, California, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Idaho, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri and Florida.

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