Class Action Suits: To Join or Opt Out?

By Neetal Parekh on September 25, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sure, you have received notices in the mail informing you about a class action case that you may be able to opt into.  Or maybe last time you went to drop off a movie rental or pick up groceries, the attendant handed you a note card with details about a pending class action case that you could join. 

And before you launched into your next errand or tossed the mail into the "look at later" pile, you have may wondered...should you join in or opt out?

Here are some considerations to help you decide:

1. What's it worth to you?  You may not even have realized that an injustice was done, or on the other hand, you may unsuspectingly submitted yourself to a danger posed by the product.  Consider the value of the potential case to you personally.  This could mean in terms of expenses that you have have to allocate to fund any individual litigation, the potential damages you could receive, or it may mean opting for the class action if you feel collective participation would be more likely to bring about significant change.

2. How were you wronged?  In any civil case you will have to consider the damages that you seek.  These could include health expenses, counseling, the cost of a replacement item, compensation for time or investment lost by purchasing the product or engaging in the service. and a number of other damages suffered.  

3. Are you going to bring a really?  Depending on how you feel you were wronged, think about if you are charged up enough about the matter to engage an attorney.  And if you do an initial consult, you will likely gain an idea of the kinds and breadth of evidence you will need to produce to make viable case.  If your connection with the product entails only buying one at a grocery store years ago, finding receipts and proving harm caused by the product could be challenging.  If you end up feeling that you may not bring a case on your own, then joining the class action will be a good option to have any evidence of wrongdoing join the larger pool of evidence that the class action attorneys are collecting.

4. Do you want to make a statement, take a stance against an unsafe product or unfair practice?  Increasingly, class action suits are becoming akin to 'voting' for change.  Large companies and organizations may be reluctant to change their policies based on a single complaint or even lawsuit, however, the voices of potentially hundreds or even thousands of individuals can make a deep impact.  If your individual claim may not be fare well in court, joining the class action to log in your vote of protest.

5. What's your control quotient?  How much say do you need in the case.  A class action suit naturally limits the control that any one member of the class can exercise on the case as a whole.  That may be welcome news, or it may feel limiting.  Also, you may or may not agree with the strategies of the attorneys or may question their best interest.  If your control quotient is high, you may want to still consider opting out and then bringing your own case.

The decision to join in or opt out depends largely on whether you feel you have an individual claim that you want to pursue independently, what kinds of resources you are willing to put towards making a case, and whether you want to help the class make a broader statement.  

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