Personal Injury Laws and Class Action Suits

A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit in which a claim is brought to court by a large group of people who have a common interest in that claim. In the United States, class action lawsuits where the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million or where a defendant or member of the class of plaintiffs are from different states are governed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 23, and by 28 U.S.C.A. s. 1332(d). This rule also applies if either a member of the class of plaintiffs or a defendant is from a different country, as long as at least a single defendant or member of the class of plaintiffs is a U.S. citizen.

The advantage of class action lawsuits

By combining individual claims, consistency in the rulings for each plaintiff is ensured. This is especially important when plaintiffs come from many different court districts or states. If the court finds in favor of the plaintiff, equal compensation among plaintiffs is also ensured.

The overall cost of litigation is reduced in a class action lawsuit. The cost per plaintiff is drastically reduced. There is no need for constant repetition of the same evidence, which can cut back drastically on court costs, legal fees, and time invested by all concerned. This makes it easier for a group of plaintiffs to press forwards against a powerful defendant, where an individual might not be able to pursue the case.

Even small claims, which may be too small to be worth filing an individual suit, can be pursued through a class action lawsuit. This increases manufacturer accountability at the low end of the economic scale.

Personal injury law

Personal injury law falls under tort law, with some overlap into litigation law. However, most personal injury lawsuits are settled out of court. Torts fall into 3 general classes: intentional torts, negligent torts, and strict liability torts. Any of these categories may apply to personal injury law. In all cases, it must have been foreseeable that the failure to take reasonable care could result in personal injury.

For example, intentional tort may exist where employees were required to work in conditions which the company knew were unsafe. Negligent tort may exist where a working environment became unsafe as a result of the company’s failure to take reasonable care to identify or prevent knowable unsafe conditions. Strict liability tort may exist if personal injury resulted from the failure of an important component, such as a blowout preventer or cement mixture.

A group of plaintiffs who have suffered personal injury because of a defendant’s failure to use reasonable care may choose to sue the defendant for recovery for damages. Acceptable damages include medical expenses, loss of earnings capacity, pain and suffering, property damages, legal costs, and even emotional distress. The amount sought for damages often also includes expected future losses due to the personal injury.

It is not necessary for a group of plaintiffs to have suffered identical damages to bring a class action lawsuit. All that is needed is the CANT principle:

* Commonality: all plaintiffs in the group have at least a single common claim
* Adequacy: the representative plaintiffs must adequately protect the interests of the entire group
* Numerosity: there are too many plaintiffs for individual lawsuits to be practical
* Typicality: the claims and defenses for the representative plaintiff must be typical for the entire group

If the defendant’s liability can be proven, compensation for damages will then be awarded to each plaintiff based on the total of their individual damages. For example, a large group of plaintiffs may have been injured and lost their homes as a result of a train derailment, but the injuries, long-term medical expenses, and values of homes will be different among plaintiffs.

However, the defendant may not be found liable if the group of plaintiffs were demonstrably aware that the specific risk existed and chose to continue to work under those conditions anyway. This is called assumption of the risk. Other conditions which may negate liability are pre-existing conditions and intervening causes over which the defendant has no power.