Articles Tagged with class action

Pro-business forces in Congress have proposed laws aimed at restricting, or even eliminating, the rights of injured Americans to join together in bringing their claims in the form of a single “class action” lawsuit. A class action is a kind of lawsuit in which those who have been injured by the same corporate conduct can bring their legal claims as part of a single case, rather than having to file dozens or hundreds or even thousands of essentially identical individual cases. Common example of a class action include:

  • When a corporation has misrepresented its financial health, causing investors to pay more for the corporation’s stock than it is actually worth, only to learn later through an unexpected stock price drop that they had not been told the truth.
  • When a car company has sold automobiles with a common defect–say, a malfunctioning air bag-with the result that car purchasers did not get the car they paid for, and in fact unknowingly got a dangerous car.

In my 17+ years representing families victimized by corporate pollution–contaminating their air or water supply–I and my partners have frequently used class actions to seek justice for our clients. In a typical case, a company dumped a dangerous chemical onto the ground years ago, and allowed it to bleed down through the soil, and into the groundwater that flows underneath our clients’ homes, and is used to supply water to those homes. So, as a result of the company’s behavior, each of perhaps 100 (or more) families now has a contaminated water supply. Each family needs a new water supply–one not threatened by the dangerous chemicals–and compensation for the loss in property value suffered because of the contamination.

So, each of the 100 families is the victim of the same common corporate misconduct, i.e., dumping dangerous chemicals, not cleaning them up, and allowing them to infiltrate a neighborhood water supply. Likewise, each family seeks the same type of relief (a new water supply and lost property value compensation), and has the same lawyers and scientific experts to prove its case.

Our office is routinely contacted by injured people asking for an attorney to represent them in a class action case for their personal injuries, or, asking if there is already a class action case going for the type of bodily injury they suffered. Thanks to the popular media, and abundant legal advertising by injury attorneys in Illinois and elsewhere, many people wrongfully believe that you can be part of a class action case for personal injuries suffered. Here in Illinois, there is no such thing. Class action cases are brought on behalf of a group of people who were “injured” in some similar way, caused by the same facts, where the injuries are essentially the same for everyone. The “injury” is not to the body, but is usually financial. A good example is an environmental case where a company dumps a toxic chemical in a neighborhood and the property values of all the homes surrounding it are decreased. Our firm has handled many such environmental class action cases. However, cases where that same chemical dumping is involved, but the injuries are personal injuries (such as the development of cancers linked to the chemical) cannot be part of a class action. The reason: they are inherently personal injuries, not identical across the group; the “personal” in “personal injury.” Now, when something happens and many people suffer personal injuries as a result of some type of wrongdoing, such as through use of a defective medical device or drug, some injury attorneys will handle the cases together and try and get them consolidated into a group and put on the same track. But they are still each distinct cases and thus, not a “class” (which is generally more than 50 people) under the law. Do not be confused, in the eyes of the law a “class action” and “consolidated cases” are two very different things. Whether you are part of a class, injured in a situation that must be brought as an individual case, or just wonder what your legal rights are, only a qualified attorney can properly advise you on the law. Do not rely on what you see in the media or in advertisements. If you are injured, or have questions on your legal rights, you should contact an experienced lawyer without delay. 

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