The Role of the Defendant in a Class Action Lawsuit

Learn about what role defendants play in class action lawsuits and how they must comply with court orders and judgments.

The Role of the Defendant in a Class Action Lawsuit

A class action lawsuit is a legal device that allows one or more plaintiffs to file and process a lawsuit on behalf of a larger group. This type of lawsuit is popular when many people suffer the same type of harm from the defendant's conduct. The plaintiff who files the lawsuit, normally the group's representative, must be formally approved as the lead plaintiff when the group is certified. The people represented by the lead plaintiffs are known as a class of plaintiffs. Generally, the law firm that represents the plaintiff first receives a percentage of the agreed amount, then it is paid to the main plaintiff (usually a higher share than the other members of the group due to the additional work that the main plaintiff did in processing the class action) and then the members of the group are paid.

Class action lawsuits seek to rectify the damages suffered by individuals in a class action lawsuit, generally through monetary gain. The laws of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia, express or through court judgment, have been interpreted to allow what are informally known as national class action lawsuits of voluntary exclusion. This means that residents of other provinces may be included in the class definition and potentially be subject to court judgment on common issues, unless excluded in the manner and time prescribed. Current law requires judicial approval of all class action agreements and, in most cases, group members have the opportunity to opt out of the collective agreement. Group members may be unaware of their right to opt out because they did not receive the notice, did not read it, or did not understand it. Many supporters have long argued that class action procedures were, in general, incompatible with due process mandates and unnecessarily promoted the litigation of claims that would otherwise be minor. Lawyers typically file class action lawsuits in contingency cases, charging a percentage of the judgment or settlement fees paid to plaintiffs.

Collective treatment may not improve the efficiency of a mass grievance because lawsuits often involve individualized issues of law and fact that will need to be re-judged on an individual basis. In 1938, Congress enacted the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which finally put in place the class action mechanism in accordance with its original version. Recent changes in Spanish civil procedural rules include the introduction of a quasi-collective right for certain consumer associations to claim damages on behalf of unidentified consumer groups. A study on federal settlements required manual search of relevant records in lawsuit databases. State class action lawsuits were not included due to difficulty in collecting information. The presence and expansion of litigation funders has played an important role in emergence of class action lawsuits in New Zealand. Spanish legislation allows designated consumer associations to take measures to protect consumers' interests.

For example, resolution of class action lawsuits follows a predictable path of negotiation with lawyers and group representatives, judicial scrutiny and notification. The role of defendants in class action lawsuits is to defend themselves against claims made by plaintiffs. Defendants must comply with court orders and judgments issued by courts regarding class action lawsuits. They must also pay any damages awarded by courts as part of settlements or judgments.