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.