How Do Class Action Lawsuits Work?

Class action lawsuits are a powerful legal mechanism that enables individuals with similar claims against a defendant to collectively pursue justice. These lawsuits serve as a means for individuals who have suffered harm or wrongdoing, often against large corporations or entities, to pool their resources and seek redress collectively. Understanding how class action lawsuits work is crucial for both plaintiffs and defendants involved in legal proceedings.

  1. Definition and Purpose of Class Action Lawsuits: Class action lawsuits are civil lawsuits where a group of people, known as the class, collectively sues another party, usually a corporation or entity, on behalf of themselves and others who have similar claims. The purpose of class actions is to provide an efficient and equitable way to resolve disputes involving numerous individuals with common legal issues.
  2. Certification of the Class: Before a class action lawsuit can proceed, the court must certify the class. This involves determining whether the case meets certain criteria outlined in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the United States. These criteria typically include: a. Numerosity: There must be a sufficiently large number of plaintiffs to justify a class action. b. Commonality: There must be common questions of law or fact among the class members. c. Typicality: The claims of the named plaintiffs must be typical of those of the class. d. Adequacy of Representation: The named plaintiffs and their attorneys must adequately represent the interests of the class. Once the court certifies the class, the lawsuit can proceed as a class action. You would need to consult with a lawyer to find if you’re eligible.

    For instance, in the Philips CPAP lawsuit, researchers discovered that the polyurethane foam found in the CPAP machines manufactured by Philips causes users to be exposed to several life-threatening conditions. The damage caused by these devices has led to several multidistrict litigations from individuals and families of users who have suffered from the use of these machines. Affected individuals, in such cases, can then be a part of the class action suit after checking your eligibility to file a CPAP lawsuit.
  3. Representation and Lead Plaintiffs: In a class action lawsuit, one or more individuals represent the entire class as named plaintiffs. These individuals, known as lead plaintiffs or class representatives, work closely with attorneys who specialize in class action litigation. The lead plaintiffs bear the responsibility of acting in the best interests of the class and providing instructions to their attorneys.
  4. Notice to Class Members: Once the class is certified, the court typically requires that notice be provided to all potential class members. This notice informs individuals of their right to opt-out of the class action if they wish to pursue individual claims separately. Opting out allows individuals to retain the right to pursue their own lawsuits independent of the class action.
  5. Settlement and Litigation: Class action lawsuits can be resolved through either settlement or litigation. In some cases, the parties may reach a settlement agreement, subject to court approval. If a settlement is reached, class members are typically given the opportunity to review the terms of the settlement and provide feedback to the court before it is finalized. If the case proceeds to litigation, the parties engage in discovery, where they exchange relevant information and evidence. The court may also hear arguments on various motions, such as motions to dismiss or for summary judgment. If the case goes to trial, the court or a jury will hear the evidence presented by both sides and render a verdict.
  6. Distribution of Damages: If the class prevails in a class action lawsuit, damages or settlement funds are typically distributed among class members according to a court-approved plan. The distribution plan may take into account factors such as the extent of each class member’s harm and the expenses incurred in pursuing the lawsuit.
  7. Attorneys’ Fees: In class action lawsuits, attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only receive payment if the case is successful. If the class prevails, the court may award attorneys’ fees and expenses, which are paid out of the settlement or judgment fund. The court evaluates the reasonableness of the fees based on factors such as the complexity of the case and the results achieved.


Class action lawsuits play a vital role in ensuring access to justice for individuals who have been harmed by the actions of others. By allowing plaintiffs to pool their resources and pursue claims collectively, class actions serve as a powerful tool for holding corporations and entities accountable for their misconduct. Understanding the mechanics of class action lawsuits is essential for both plaintiffs seeking justice and defendants facing legal action.