Interviewer: How do lawsuits become class action versus just an individual?
Andrew: Well, when a person normally files a lawsuit they sue as a Plaintiff, it is an individual action. When a person has a matter that has likely affected many people, then that person file an individual lawsuit and a putative class-action listing them as the lead Plaintiff.
The court then has to determine if the potential class action meets what is required under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It gets quite complicated but in the end the court is trying to determine if the issues complained of by the individual are the same of the potential members of the class. There also has to be an adequate number of people that have suffered the same type of problem as well.
Class action lawsuits can be great ways to solve big problems especially where the violations involve very small sums of money spread out over a great number of victims. Any kind of action can become a class action if the facts and circumstances are right.
What I would look for is a pattern or practice of behavior where a large number of people are complaining of something and where the violation is documented through some verifiable source.
So for example is there is a misrepresentation that violates Federal law made in a letter that is routinely sent to individuals by a certain company that can be the basis of a great class action in many cases. Another example is where a client has certain voice mail messages that violate the law that would likely have been received by many other people. A pattern or practice of overcharging people that is represented in a bill, court document, or a letter could be another example as well.
So a client might call me and says, “Hey, I had this collector send me this letter.” After looking at the letter and concluding that it violated the law, was likely sent to thousands of other debtors and determining that the collector is relatively large, I would then look online to see if it is a widespread problem.
That is what is great about the Internet; it really shines a light in a lot of previously dark corners in our world. I think it is quite clear that transparency can be a real benefit to consumers, not simply in the form of lower prices and greater competition but in helping people weed out potential scams.
In some instances, class actions will often settle without having had the class become certified. A lot of these collectors or creditors will simply buy off the lead plaintiff. That is typically a good thing for Michigan consumers because Michigan is an opt-in state. This means that unless you specifically opt-out of a class action, then you are bound by the terms of the settlement. So if you miss the deadline and do not opt out, you cannot file a lawsuit on the same issue. A lot of times the damages you get as a member of a class-action could be quite small compared to what you could get if you filed suit on your own.
Interviewer: That is not good.
Andrew: No, it is not. Most of the time, you are better off contacting a lawyer experienced in this area of law and bringing individual claims. This is because you are probably going to get a lot more money.
You can opt-out by following the procedures that are listed in the proposed settlement papers that you are required to receive. It really depends upon what the class action is based upon and what violations are deemed to have occurred. I recommend that if a consumer has that kind of question, they should contact an experienced consumer protection lawyer to assist them in their decision.
Many people complain about class actions because of the size of the damages they receive versus what the attorneys might get. They look at the settlement and realize that they only get $8.00 but the attorneys that helped the class get millions.
What they don’t understand is that in many instances, they don’t even have the right to file a lawsuit on the same issue in Michigan because the Michigan legislator has not provided individuals those rights. Lots of class actions come out of California where consumers actually have a lot more rights compared to Michigan.
They also fail to weigh the substantial risks taken by class action attorneys who often have to front tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.
Interviewer: Are you called a debt collection attorney? Where do people search to find someone like you?
Andrew: That is a good question. I advocate for those who have been defrauded or whose privacy rights have been violated. Technically my field is known as “Consumer Law” but when searching people would like search under privacy rights or debt collection harassment.