Florida Class Action Lawsuit Attorney Hunting
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits arise out of an isolated incident in which someone’s careless or reckless actions caused damages or injuries. For example, a car accident caused by a distracted driver or slipping and falling on a wet grocery store floor. In these cases, clients hire personal injury lawyers to help them recover compensation for injuries they sustained in that single accident.
However, sometimes, the actions of a person or (more typically) company cause harm to a large number of people. When one company harms multiple individuals in a similar way you may be able to join them in filing a lawsuit for damages. For instance, when a corporation manufactures and sells a dangerous or defective product that fails widely, all who were harmed by the product can bring a single lawsuit. In these cases, all of those harmed in the same way form a class of similarly situated people to assert their rights through a class-action lawsuit.
In this blog post, we discuss what makes class actions different from other types of personal injury legal actions. We explain how you can determine whether you are part of a class of injured people, and how to find a class action attorney to represent you and others like you.
Quick Overview of Class Actions
A class action is a special kind of lawsuit involving a group of people who share similar legal claims. The group asserts their rights against a wrongdoer collectively, rather than individually. On the other hand, but less common, an individual may also sue a group of similarly-situated defendants, collectively. The primary benefits of a class action include increased bargaining power (particularly if their damages are relatively small) and efficient justice because the parties and the courts to resolve many claims at once, rather than handling them independently.
Corporations are not fond of class action lawsuits because they give consumers and others power they wouldn’t otherwise have. For an example outside of the personal injury context, a class action gives a big bank’s customers the power to challenge illegal hidden fees. Although these fees may only cost each customer a few dollars, all the bank’s customers together may expose millions of dollars in illegal profits.
That is, of course, exactly why class actions are so important for the American public. Class actions help prevent widespread corporate wrongdoing that causes minimal individual harm. After all, lawyers might decline to fight a big corporation on behalf of a single client for just $10,000. The costs and effort involved in pursuing a lawsuit may make the individual fight worthless. However, the same lawsuit makes more sense if you 1,000 harmed individuals come together as a class to sue a corporation for $10,000,000.
How Do You Know If You Are Part of a Class of Injured People?
It may be difficult to determine whether an accident that harmed you could justify a class action lawsuit. Below we summarize the legal guidelines lawyers follow to figure out if a case is appropriate to be treated as a class action. Additionally we offer some practical advice for figuring out if you are the victim of an injury or loss that puts you into a potential class of plaintiffs.
The Legal Standard for a Class Action
All state courts and the federal courts have largely-similar requirements for what makes a lawsuit appropriate for treatment as a class action. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure lay out four basic requirements that a lawsuit must meet to be treated as a class action:
(1) the members of the class are so numerous that separate joinder of each member is impracticable,
(2) the claim or defense of the representative party raises questions of law or fact common to the questions of law or fact raised by the claim or defense of each member of the class,
(3) the claim or defense of the representative party is typical of the claim or defense of each member of the class, and
(4) the representative party can fairly and adequately protect and represent the interests of each member of the class.
In other words, this means that a class action can only happen if there are a great number of individuals with mostly-identical claims. Further, the situation must prove it would be difficult to find everyone with similar claims and to bring their cases one at a time. And, lastly, it must be clear that justice will be served if a single person or small group of people claimants stand-in as representatives for everyone in the same position.
Even when these basic requirements are met, a court will only certify a case as a class action if:
- Treating the matter as a class action will avoid inconsistent outcomes, likely to result if the cases are decided individually; or
- There is reason to think the party with potential liability acted in a way that applies to everyone in the class and could be remedied by a single court decision; or
- That “questions of law or fact common to the claim or defense of the representative party and the claim or defense of each member of the class predominate over any question of law or fact affecting only individual members of the class, and class representation is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.”
Signs Your Situation Might Meet Those Legal Standards
If the rules above seem complicated, well, that’s because they are. Even lawyers and judges struggle with their application. How do you, as a non-lawyer, figure out if you have a claim that could be a class action? Look for these signs:
- You have been hurt by a defective consumer product or service;
- You know about other people have been hurt the same way you were;
- Pursuing a claim on your own, doesn’t seem like it would be worth it, but it could be if you could find others in the same situation as you; or
- You heard about someone getting hurt by the same person or company in the same way you got hurt.
Basically, if you’ve been physically and/or emotionally harmed and you suspect there are lots of others like you, you might have a claim that could form the basis for a class action.
Finding a Class Action Lawyer
So, you think you have a claim that could be suitable for a class action. What now? How do you find a lawyer to represent you and others like you?
Sometimes, the Class Action Lawyer Finds You…
By nature, class action claims mean you are not the only person who has been harmed. As a result, there is a chance that someone has already started looking for a lawyer to represent the class to which you belong. Thus, it is likely a class action lawyer is already looking for you to inform you of the potential class. Lawyers utilize a variety of methods to identify class members. Two common ways are advertising and mailing lists they obtain from the potentially liable party. For example, in Florida, holders of major bank credit cards have likely received mail notifying them of their opportunity to join a class of customers harmed by illegal fees.
…But Why Wait?
When someone harms you and others in an identical way, your first instinct might be to take action, rather than wait around for a class action lawyer to call you. You want justice and accountability, and rightfully so. Where should you look for an attorney and what should you look for? Here are some tips:
- Start with an internet search. First things first: check to see if a Florida lawyer or law firm already represents the class that entitles you to membership. Start with a simple internet search. For example, if you took a particular brand of medicine that caused you harm, search for the name of the drug, the effect it had on you, and class action. You may find a Florida law firm has already begun building a case and wants to hear from you.
- Identify the large personal injury firms in your area. If nothing turns up, your next step should be to identify personal injury law firms in your area. Why look for larger firms? Because class action work typically requires significant resources, experience, and organizational capabilities, smaller law firms do not pursue class-action lawsuits. You can find local firms through a search on the Florida Bar website.
- Screen those law firms for class action work. Even larger law firms do not necessarily seek out class action cases. Of the larger firms you identify, cross out any who do not advertise experience in class action work. Check out firm web pages or Google the firm name and class action to figure out if they have the kind of experience you need.
- Schedule a meeting. Once you have narrowed your search, schedule a free initial consultation with the firms that seem to fit the bill. Go to the meeting armed not just with information about your injury, but also with the reasons you have to think your case is suitable for treatment as a class action. (And keep in mind, even if an attorney does not think the case fits the class action mold, you may still have a strong individual claim to make!)
The Unique Aspects of What Happens Next
If after meeting with an attorney you determine your case is a good candidate for class action treatment. What’s next?
In some ways, the process that follows resembles any other lawsuit. The lawyer will interview you and investigate your case. Additional investigation will be required to size up how many people are in the potential class, the potential total amount of damages involved, and the chances of recovering damages from the parties responsible for your harm. If there is a viable class action, a lawyer may initiate the lawsuit by filing a legal action and seeking certification of the case as a class action. You may serve as the class representative or lead plaintiff (which simply means your case stands as the typical scenario for everyone in the class).
Class action lawsuits are more lawyer-driven than many other types of personal injury cases. Clearly, the lawyer still has an obligation to represent your interests, but he or she also owes a duty to everyone similarly situated to you. The main focus is figuring out what your claim has in common with all of the others. You can still expect to receive personal attention from a lawyer in a class action. As you should, in every case. However, agreeing to represent the class as lead plaintiff or class representative makes your claim a stand-in for everyone else’s, including your own.
Furthermore, if a court allows your case to move forward as a class action, the case becomes subject to a special set of rules. One rule states that a court typically must approve any settlement of the case that applies to all members of your class. In other words, when pursuing a claim as a class action, you sacrifice some control over the outcome. In exchange, you will benefit from the collective power of all class members asserting their rights collectively. Be aware that fighting collectively may produce a one-size-fits-all solution.
Due to the unique aspects of class action lawsuits, you will need a skilled class action attorney to advise you about your claim. Not every situation resulting in similar harm to multiple people should be pursued as a class action. For example, when an individual’s damages are substantial, it may make more sense to pursue the case independently of similar claims. Your case could then serve as a test case for other, less high-dollar-value cases that may follow. An experienced Florida class action attorney can help you consider all of your options. Contact one today to learn more.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765