How To Start a Class Action Lawsuit (2024)

Learn how to start a class action lawsuit, a tool that can strengthen the power of individuals to hold powerful defendants accountable for wrongdoing.

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


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How To Start a Class Action Lawsuit (2024)

A class action lawsuit can be a powerful tool for helping a large group of individuals who have been harmed by a company, organization, or other entity. It allows an individual or small group to seek justice and compensation for a much larger pool of victims. This guide will help you understand the basics of these types of cases and how to start a class action lawsuit.

How Many People Do You Need for A Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit can be appropriate when a common legal violation affects a large group of people. Common claims involve defective products, misleading advertisements, harmful pharmaceuticals, public health hazards and employment discrimination. Everyone in the group must have suffered similar harm or injury.

Although there is no set minimum, the proposed class must have a number of victims large enough to warrant consolidating the claims into one action.

Minimum Requirements for Class Action Lawsuits

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) sets out the four requirements for class certification. In addition to showing that many people have suffered similar harm, the proposed plaintiffs must show that their claims represent everyone else's and that their lawyers have the skill, ability, experience and resources to represent the class fairly.

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Examples of Common Issues in Class Action Lawsuits

  • Defective Products. If a manufacturer sells a product that is unsafe or does not perform as advertised, individuals who suffer injuries or economic loss may be able to bring a class action product liability lawsuit. Examples include dangerous drugs like Fentanyl, medical devices, consumer products and vehicles.
  • Threats to Public Health. Manufacturers of pesticides and other chemicals that contaminate water, like RoundUp and other glyphosate products, often face class action lawsuits for product liability and endangering public health.
  • Consumer Fraud. Misleading or false advertising, hidden fees or other deceptive business practices that impact many consumers can lead to a class action.
  • Illegal Employment Practices. Businesses can face class action claims from large groups of workers alleging systematic discrimination, wage and hour violations or unsafe working conditions.

How to Start a Class Action Lawsuit Against a Company

A class representative (or lead plaintiff) represents the interests of the entire class. Class representatives should have claims typical of the class and be willing to actively participate in the litigation of the case. Usually, a few class representatives are named in a lawsuit in case one or more becomes unable to proceed or the court dismisses their claims.

If you believe you have grounds for a class action case, you should gather as much evidence as possible before consulting an attorney. Compile receipts, contracts, warranties, emails, advertisements, pictures, medical records and other relevant documents. Compile the contact information for others who have experienced the same issue and any statements they have made.

Class action lawsuits are complex and require specialized legal expertise. Hiring an attorney or law firm experienced in handling class actions is essential. Many class action attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, taking a portion of any settlement or verdict as payment for their fees rather than charging an hourly rate.

How to File a Class Action Lawsuit

Your attorney will work with you to file a complaint in the appropriate state or federal court. Because of the scope and value of these claims, most are filed in federal court. The complaint should detail the facts of the case, who is in the class and the criteria for membership, the legal basis for the claims and the requested compensation. It will also include a request for the court to certify the class.

The court will hold a hearing to decide whether the complaint meets the criteria for class certification. Both the plaintiffs and defendants will present arguments and evidence. If the court certifies the class, the lawsuit can proceed as a class action. It may be necessary to consolidate claims from other states into one larger matter. Class action litigation often involves litigants from all over the country and can take many years to resolve.

Once the class is certified, the plaintiffs must notify all potential class members of the lawsuit, their rights and their options (including the choice to opt out of the class if they prefer to pursue individual claims). Notice can be given through various means, including mail, email and newspaper publication.

Resolving a Class Action Lawsuit

During the discovery phase of a class action lawsuit, the parties exchange information and gather evidence. This process can include depositions (interviews under oath), interrogatories, requests for documents and more. The process allows both parties to build their cases and prepare for trial or settlement negotiations.

Most class action lawsuits are resolved through settlements, which can provide quicker resolutions and guaranteed compensation for class members. The court must approve any proposed settlement to ensure it is fair and reasonable. If the case goes to trial, the plaintiffs must prove their claims before a judge or jury.

A settlement or verdict binds all class members, whether or not they knew of or participated in the lawsuit. Compensation is divided and distributed to all identified class members once the plaintiff recovers the proceeds from a settlement or verdict.

Jamie Pfeiffer, J.D.'s profile picture

Jamie Pfeiffer, J.D.


She writes accessible, engaging content to demystify everyday legal issues for all readers and is passionate about food, wine, and travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Class action lawsuits begin like every other civil case. A plaintiff prepares a complaint setting out the basic facts of the case, the legal basis for their claims and the amount of their damages. They file their complaint in the appropriate court, pay a filing fee and give notice of the lawsuit to the defendant in accordance with local rules.

    The complaint must have additional information and conform to procedural requirements for a class action to succeed. Retaining an experienced attorney is crucial to ensure the court doesn’t dismiss your case for insufficiency or other procedural reasons without considering it on its merits.

  • Although there's no set minimum number, the class of affected people must be large enough that it is impractical for each of them to file their own lawsuit. However, a single person can serve as the named plaintiff or class representative on behalf of everyone else.

  • Starting a class action lawsuit is a complex and demanding process. It is not advisable to start a class action lawsuit without retaining an attorney with experience handling these types of cases.

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