Frequently Asked Questions About Class Actions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a class action?
A class action is a lawsuit that is brought by one or more people (called the class representatives) on behalf of a larger group of people (called the class members). The goal of a class action is to resolve all the common issues or similar claims in a single lawsuit so that the results are binding on all class members and the defendants.

Should I participate in a class action or file an individual lawsuit?
When there are a large number of plaintiffs who have a similar claim, a class action avoids the expense of having to prove the same thing over and over again in dozens or hundreds of separate lawsuits. Class actions are particularly useful when the losses suffered by an individual plaintiff may not be sufficient to make an individual lawsuit economically viable. In other words where the potential recovery is less than the potential expenses of an individual lawsuit.

When does a claim become a class action?
Claims are filed as proposed class actions. The proposed class action has to go through what is called a certification hearing where a court will determine whether or not the claim can proceed as a class action.

What is certification?
During the certification hearing, the court has to determine:

  1. Whether there is an actual cause of action;
  2. Whether there is an identifiable class of people who have suffered a loss;
  3. Are there any issues that are common to all of the class members;
  4. Is a class action the preferred procedure to resolve the common issues; and
  5. Is the proposed representative plaintiff suitable to represent the class members?

The answers to these questions helps the court determine if the claim should proceed as a class action.

What is a representative plaintiff?
The representative plaintiff is a member of the class who has suffered the same loss as other class members who agrees to represent an act on behalf of the entire class in the lawsuit. The representative plaintiff must act in the interests of the entire class, and not just in their own interest.

What happens after Certification?
Sometimes after a class action is certified the claim ends up settling. However, if the parties cannot reach a settlement, the claim proceeds like a traditional lawsuit and a trial may be held to resolve the common issues.

Do I have to pay any legal fees?
The representative plaintiff hires a law firm (or firms) to act as class counsel on behalf of all the class members. Any agreement the representative plaintiff makes with legal counsel must be reviewed and approved by the court. In most class actions, class counsel is paid on a contingency fee basis. That means class counsel is only paid if the class action is successful.

What about individual claims?
In some class actions, after the court determines the common issues, there may be individual issues that still need to be resolved. For example, it may be that the common issue of fault is determined on a class-wide basis. However, the amount of damages or compensation that individual class members are entitled to receive may require an individual assessment. Class action legislation provides the courts with a great deal of flexibility regarding how individual issues can be resolved.

If I join the class action, will my name become public?
The only parties whose names are a matter of public record are the representative plaintiffs. The names and individual identities of individual class members are not part of the public court proceedings. For individuals who want their claim to remain private, participation in a class action provides an additional benefit rather than being forced to file an individual lawsuit where the details of the individual’s claim becomes part of the public record.

How long will all of this take?
Class actions usually involve large companies and complex legal issues. They typically take years to settle or come to trial. However, the advantage of participating in the class action is that class members are typically not required to participate while the claim is ongoing.

Can I opt out of the class action?
In Nova Scotia, when a class action is certified all members of the class are given the opportunity to “opt out” of the class action. In other words, class members are allowed to decide whether they want to participate in the class action or file their own individual lawsuit. If the class member does not opt out by a court established deadline then they are deemed to be a part of the class action.

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