What is a class action?
A class action is a lawsuit in which one petitioner brings a claim against one or more defendants, typically large corporations or governmental agencies, on behalf of a large group of unnamed people (the Class Members).
How do class actions work?
- The representative petitioner comes forward to identify an issue and identify the class of people affected by this issue (known as the Class Members) – the representative’s lawyers will file the lawsuit.
- A Judge must first authorize the class action and order that it may proceed on a collective basis. When authorizing the class action, the Court will determine the Group to be included in the class action going forward and the Court also defines which common questions of law and fact will be decided on a collective basis, for the benefit of the entire group.
- After the action has been authorized, a notice is published to notify all class members. At this point, class members may exclude themselves from the action (opt-out). In such a case, the class members who opt out are no longer a part of the class and have the option of pursuing their personal case on their own, on an individual basis. Those class members who do not opt-out are bound by any judgment rendered or settlement reached in the context of the class action proceedings.
- Class actions are resolved in one of two manners. There can be a settlement agreed upon between the parties, which must then be approved by the Courts in order to ensure that the settlement is in the best interests of all the class members. If there is no settlement, the case proceeds to the first authorization hearing mentioned above. If authorized, the case can then proceed to trial and the Court will render a decision which will be binding on the entire group.
- The Court always ensures that proper notification is given (through the newspapers or otherwise, as determined in each particular case) in order to inform class members on how to claim their damages or how to benefit from any other remedies offered to them in the context of either a settlement or final judgment.
What are the advantages of a class action?
Class actions allow access to justice that some citizens might not otherwise have, given the costs and complexity of instituting the action alone. There is no risk involved in being a class member. If the action is unsuccessful, the class members bear no financial losses.
Class actions also help deter wrongdoings by large corporations or governmental organizations by compelling them to make amends, often times by paying sums of money to the affected individuals.
How do I join a class action?
It is not necessary to "join" a class action in order to be included – in the Province of Quebec, you are automatically included if you fit the group definition determined by the Court, in each particular case. Any judgment rendered or settlement approved is binding on all class members (except those who exercise their right to opt-out, as mentioned above).
However, it is always helpful for class counsel (i.e. the lawyers representing the petitioner and the group) to have information related to the class members’ claims as well as their contact information to keep them informed on any updates related to the case, and in order to inform the Court of the approximate number and geographical dispersion of the class members. Accordingly, if a person believes that he may be included in a proposed class action, he or she would be well advised to sign up in order to be contacted in the future, should the case settle or if a final judgment is rendered that may affect his or her rights and recourses.
To learn more about our pending class actions and/or to join one of our class actions, click here.
What are the costs involved in a class action?
There are no costs involved in being a class member.
Typically, in class actions, class counsel enter into an agreement with the representative petitioner(s), most often on a contingency basis, and the legal costs are only recovered if the action is successful (namely a percentage of all class members' claims or a specific amount in class counsel fees, as the case may be and as must be approved by the Court).
How long does a class action last?
Considering that class actions usually involve complex legal issues, they often take several years to resolve, typically 2 to 3 years. However, each case is different and therefore the time frames can vary.
What are my rights and responsibilities in a class action?
All class members must ensure the submission of their claims within the time delay allotted in order to receive the compensation due to them. The notices that are published will specify how to submit these claims.
If the time delay passes and you do not make a claim, you lose your right to compensation and recourses. Sometimes class members are not adequately notified of the claim process. This is another reason why it is important to join the class action so as to receive proper notification.