What is a class action? A class action is a claim brought by one person on behalf of a large group of people who have suffered the same loss or injury. When others have been injured or abused in the same way and by the same party that injured or abused you, a Halifax class action lawyer can determine if you qualify to participate in a class action.

A typical personal injury lawsuit in Nova Scotia – for example, a lawsuit arising from a traffic accident – usually involves one injury victim (the plaintiff) and one presumably liable party (the defendant), but the rules are different for class action lawsuits.

Class actions are lawsuits that allow multiple injury victims to work together and bring a single claim against the party that injured or abused them. Class action lawsuits can be used to hold governments and big businesses accountable for the harm they have caused.

How Significant are Class Actions in Canada?

In 1978 Quebec became the first province where class action lawsuits could be filed in Canada. Nova Scotia followed in 2008. Today, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, all Canadian provinces have laws that allow for class action lawsuits.

Class actions can be used to address a variety of injuries that may be related to defective consumer products, pharmaceutical malpractice, securities fraud, environmental hazards, and institutional abuse – such as the Indian Residential School system case – that involves physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

One of the largest personal injury class action lawsuits in Canadian history was settled in 2006 after more than 70,000 survivors of abuse in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools system sued the Canadian government in a case where Halifax class action lawyer John McKiggan represented Nora bernard and the survivors of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.

How Does a Class Action Begin?

In most class action lawsuits, one or several of the plaintiffs (the injured parties) are designated to act as the Representative Plaintiff (or plaintiffs). A class action lawsuit usually has to be initiated by a representative plaintiff who resides in the province where the class action lawsuit is being filed.

Class actions require evidence to show that there is a group (the class) of “two or more” people, but in a typical class action there are usually dozens, hundreds, even thousands of potential class members. The law sets no requirement for the size of a class.

A class action cannot proceed until it is “certified” by the court.

What is the “Certification” of a Class Action?

Certification of a class action requires extensive legal preparation. At a certification hearing, the court will consider these questions:

  1.  Does the lawsuit indicate there may be an actual cause of action against the defendant?
  2.  Is there an identifiable class of plaintiffs who would be eligible to participate in the class action?
  3.  Is a class action lawsuit the most efficient or preferable way to resolve the plaintiffs’ claims?
  4.  Is the proposed representative plaintiff capable of representing the entire class?

After answering these questions, the court will make a determination regarding whether the case should be certified as a class action lawsuit. Members of the class – meaning the injured plaintiffs – must be notified when the class action receives certification.

A court does not consider a case’s merits at a certification hearing. In other words, the court doesn’t determine whether the plaintiffs will ultimately win the lawsuit. Rather, certification is a process where the court determines whether it is best for the claim to proceed as a group or if individual plaintiffs should be required to file individual lawsuits.

What Happens After Certification?

After a class action lawsuit has been certified, the normal litigation process begins. The parties have to exchange relevant documents and information in their possession. Affidavits are usually filed in support of the class action. Discovery examinations or cross examinations on the affidavits take place.

There are frequently interim motions (court appearances) where the court may be asked to resolve legal disputes between the parties.

Private negotiations between the parties may also take place while the claim moves it’s way toward trial. If an out-of-court settlement is reached through these private negotiations, the court will be asked to review and approve the settlement to ensure that it is fair and reasonable to all the class members.

If the class action cannot be settled in the private negotiations, the class action lawsuit will proceed to what is called a “common issues trial.” At the trial the court will hear evidence, and make a decision on all the legal issues that are “common” (the same) for the class members.

At the conclusion of the common issues trial, the court will render a final decision that is binding on all parties involved.

If the Plaintiffs Win the Common Issues Trial, How Are They Compensated?

If a class action claim is settled, it must be approved by the court as reasonable and fair at a settlement approval hearing. The approval hearing will also determine how the proceeds of settlement will be distributed among the class members. Each class member must be notified of the settlement proposal, the hearing time and location, and the procedure for voicing objections to the proposal.

A final settlement limits the plaintiffs exclusively to the compensation they receive through the class action and prevents the plaintiffs from taking any subsequent legal action or receiving any additional compensation.

Because of the flexibility of the class action process there is no “one size fits all” approach to determining compensation. There are many different ways for class members to be compensated in a class action. Sometimes the proceeds are distributed equally (if everyone has suffered the same loss), sometimes there is an application process, sometimes class members are given the opportunity to attend a hearing to provide evidence about the harms or losses they have experienced and the amount of compensation is different depending on the harm that has been suffered.

In Nova Scotia, when plaintiffs prevail with a class action lawsuit, the court must approve fees to be paid to the class action lawyers.

Is a Class Action More Advantageous than a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

The advantage of participating in a class action lawsuit is leverage. Individual injury victims and their personal injury lawyers may lack the resources sufficient to take on a government or a large corporation in the courtroom or to negotiate an acceptable out-of-court settlement.

For plaintiffs, class actions increase their access to the justice system, as the legal costs are shared among members of the class. Class actions limit the downside risk for plaintiffs as the costs of unsuccessful claims may be underwritten by the plaintiffs’ lawyers or a third party.

A class action may be the best option if the damages suffered by individual plaintiffs are not large enough to make individual lawsuits feasible. It is obviously easier for several dozen plaintiffs to divide their legal costs than for a single plaintiff to pay essentially the same costs.

Class Actions Benefit All Involved Parties

When a class action has been joined by dozens of plaintiffs – or hundreds – the defendant faces the possibility of a substantial judgment, which makes an acceptable out-of-court settlement offer more likely. And class actions are simply more efficient than individual injury lawsuits.

Instead of hundreds of plaintiffs working to prove a defendant’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional abuse in hundreds of different cases, with a class action, a representative plaintiff and a Nova Scotia class action lawyer can establish the defendant’s liability (fault) once and the result applies to every single class member.

For defendants, class actions are also beneficial. The defendant has to prepare and offer a defense one time rather than dozens or hundreds of times. And as mentioned previously, a final settlement prevents plaintiffs from taking further legal action or receiving further compensation.

How Can You Learn More?

If you have been injured or abused by a government or business, no amount of cash can change what happened. However, justice demands that negligent and reckless parties should be held accountable and that victims should be fairly and justly compensated for injuries or abuse.

To learn more about class actions, or to join or initiate a class action, schedule a consultation with a Halifax personal injury lawyer. You’ll be provided with a free case evaluation and with the advice you’ll need to make informed choices about participating in a class action lawsuit.