Why should I join a class action lawsuit?

Class actions aren’t appropriate for all plaintiffs. When deciding whether to join a class action or go it alone with a private lawsuit, the amount of losses you’ve suffered is a key consideration.

At their core, class actions are a way to share litigation costs among plaintiffs whose individual losses are not major, and for whom an individual lawsuit therefore wouldn’t make much sense.

For example, imagine that a bank is charging its customers illegal $100 fees. You could file a lawsuit seeking to recover $100—but this small amount wouldn’t justify the legal costs you’d incur. But if a million customers of the same bank banded together to form a class action, with each member seeking $100, that is a potential $100 million case, and attorney fees can be shared by all plaintiffs.

The example above illustrates why class actions make sense when your losses aren’t extensive. But if your losses are significant, a private lawsuit might be preferable. For instance, a car might have a defect that for most owners simply caused lost value, but for a few unlucky owners resulted in crashes and serious injuries. If a class action forms and you are one of the victims with serious injuries, it’s unlikely that any money you’d recover would be sufficient to pay for your medical bills and other losses, in which case a private lawsuit would be in your best interest.

Remember that you could automatically become part of a class action unless you decide to opt out. Opting out gives you the choice to then file your own lawsuit. But not opting out and sharing in a portion of the recovery might mean that you can’t file a private suit.

When determining your best course of legal action, it’s best to speak with an attorney.