Legal How-To: Opting In to a Class Action Suit

By Betty Wang, JD on August 13, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

How do you join a class action suit? Do you have to formally opt in, and what happens if you don't?

Class action suits occur fairly often. They're typically used when a group of people suffers similar injuries or by the same source. Common examples of class action suits involve defective products or employment discrimination, to name just a few.

So if you get a notice to join a class action suit, how do you opt-in? Do you have to? What about opting out? Here's what you need to know:

The Class Action Notice

Class action cases usually start with one representative who wants to pursue a case and knows there will be more injured parties who will want to join.

Once the initial legwork for a lawsuit begins, and proper research is conducted in determining who else should be a member of the "class," then all the relevant injured parties will be reasonably notified -- either by an ad in the newspaper, or, more commonly these days, by mail or email. This is how you will find out that there is litigation going on; the notice will spell out your options.

Your Options

In the majority of class action cases, you are automatically a part of the class. Therefore, you don't really have to do anything else to join the class. If the class action is successful, then you will reap the rewards; if the lawsuit loses in court, then you'll be notified.

In some cases, however, plaintiffs do have to take action to "opt-in" to the class, though this is more rare. That's why it's important to read the notice carefully to determine whether or not you have to take any action. If you do have to opt in, the process is usually simple enough and will likely involve filling out a short claim form online or mailing in a response.

The process for opting out is similar, but it comes with different consequences.

Choosing to opt out of a class action generally means that you will not have any role in the final outcome. You won't be notified of the decision, nor will you reap any benefits if the class wins.

However, opting out may also mean that you can pursue the defendant on your own, instead of being part of a class. There are many factors to consider, like the potential cost of litigation and whether your damages are different than the rest of the class. You may want to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you make that determination.

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