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Photo of attorneys E. Kelly Conway, Michael E. Gehring and Stephen G. Harvey

How do class action lawsuits differ from traditional lawsuits?

On Behalf of | Feb 9, 2022 | Litigation

How many times have you watched television and seen a commercial come on the air urging you to reach out if a medical device, medication, automobile or some other consumer product has injured you? You might have also heard public service announcements on the news. Individuals who respond to these solicitations often end up being connected with a law firm that regularly handles class action cases. 

In other cases, individuals may initially consult with a personal injury attorney, who quickly recognizes the adverse circumstances their prospective client has experienced. An attorney may aid that person in joining a class action lawsuit or recommend that they pursue litigation alone. 

The reasons plaintiffs pursue class action and individual or “normal” lawsuits and the handling of settlements in such cases are different. A highlighting of the differences between these litigation options is below.

Why plaintiffs pursue litigation

Preparing a case for trial and trying it in the courtroom is costly. These factors highlight why some legal analysts see litigation as an option of last resort. There is a possibility of losing the case.

There are situations where a plaintiff doesn’t want to concede that they did anything wrong, and a plaintiff wants to hold them accountable for their negligence. Plaintiffs pursue litigation in such instances. 

What dictates whether plaintiffs file individual or class action lawsuits?

“Class action” is often used interchangeably with “mass torts” in describing the same type of litigation. Plaintiffs who join class action cases have often suffered injuries or a health decline after using a product and want to hold the company liable for their alleged indiscretion that resulted in them getting hurt. For them, pursuing litigation against these big companies would be too costly to do so alone. Their legal costs would likely exceed any settlement they could win. So, plaintiffs join together in filing a lawsuit against a defendant, i.e., a product manufacturer. They share in attorney costs, court fees and other case-related costs. 

Conversely, plaintiffs who have suffered more catastrophic injuries, such as an amputation, paralysis, a brain one or death, may pursue an individual lawsuit instead. Plaintiffs may do this because there’s a stronger likelihood of them securing a higher settlement than one with less serious injuries.

What happens with winnings from class action and individual civil lawsuits?

Any portion of any settlement plaintiffs win in a civil case generally pays the attorneys, court costs and trial preparation fees. The remainder generally goes to the plaintiffs. 

The remaining funds generally go to the sole plaintiff in an individual litigation case. All plaintiffs to the class action lawsuit end up splitting the winnings. Factors such as when they joined the lawsuit and the severity of their injuries may dictate the percentage of winnings that a class action plaintiff receives. 

Determining whether you should join a class-action lawsuit

Plaintiffs must prove liability to succeed in winning a settlement. Proving negligence isn’t necessarily easy to do. You’ll want to carefully weigh whether you have enough evidence to support your position, the severity of your injuries and potential costs before deciding whether to pursue litigation and, if so, what type.