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How Does a Lawsuit Become a Class Action?

From claims of dangerous pharmaceutical drugs to allegations of falsely advertised products, we often hear about class action lawsuits in the news. A class action lawsuit is one that is brought against a defendant by one individual, or a few individuals, on behalf of a larger class of people who suffered the same or similar injuries from the defendant's product or action. But before a lawsuit becomes a class action, there are legal procedures that must be followed. Here is a general overview: Class Certification You cannot simply "file" a class action lawsuit. A lawsuit becomes a class action through a process called class certification. To obtain certification, the court must find that: It is impractical for the plaintiffs to sue individually; Proposed class members share a common complaint; The named plaintiffs -- called the class representatives -- have the same claims and defenses as the others in the class; and The class action lawyer and representative(s) will fairly represent the class. For efficiency's sake, claims needs to raise common legal and factual issues. For example, a court might deny certification if people have suffered different kinds of side effects from a defective drug. Differences in injuries could potentially require different types of evidence for different class members. Opt In or Out? In most cases, once a lawsuit is certified as a class action, the judge will order notice to be given to all potential class members. Those who are notified will usually have the opportunity to join in the action -- called "opting in" -- which means the outcome of the lawsuit will be binding on them. Those notified may also be given the opportunity not to participate as a member of the class -- that is, to "opt out." You may want to opt out, for example, if you want to bring your own lawsuit. However, in some cases, all victims similarly situated will automatically be deemed class members, and will have no opportunity to opt out. Because each class action is different, and because the decision to opt in or out may have binding consequences, you may want to consult an experienced class action attorney about your legal rights -- especially if you believe you have a lot of money at stake. Related Resources: CA Filipina Nurses File Class Action Suit (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Coca Cola Faces ERISA Class Action Lawsuit (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Red-Light Camera Settlement: $4.2M for N.J. Drivers (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Live Nation Settlement Could Mean Free Tickets, Discounts (FindLaw's Decided)
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Ryan Ferguson Files $100M Civil Rights Lawsuit

Ryan Ferguson's attorney has filed a $100 million civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Missouri man wrongly convicted and imprisoned for nearly a decade. As you may recall, Ferguson, 29, was freed in November after spending more than eight years in prison for the murder of Missouri newspaper editor Kent Heitholt in 2001. The court overturned his conviction because the case was rife with evidentiary problems. On the 10th anniversary of his arrest, Ferguson is at the center of a legal dispute again, but this time as a victim in a civil lawsuit. Civil Lawsuit Filed Ryan Ferguson's lawsuit takes aim at the unlawful way authorities conducted their investigation and case. Ferguson's attorney Kathleen Zellner filed the suit against 12 defendants -- including individuals (cops, investigators, and attorneys) as well as the Columbia Police Department, the city of Columbia, Boone County, and the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. Among the lawsuit's numerous claims are allegations of: Destruction and/or suppression of exculpatory evidence, Fabrication of evidence, Reckless or intentional failure to investigate, Malicious prosecution, Conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, Failure to intervene, False arrest, Defamation, and Indemnification. None of the DNA collected at the scene, or the footprints and fingerprints, matched Ferguson; however, jurors unanimously convicted Ferguson by relying on the testimony of two witnesses. Those two witnesses later confessed to lying under the oath, according to the suit. In addition, details surfaced that prosecutors repeatedly failed to disclose exculpatory evidence -- evidence that could have helped Ferguson and may have changed the outcome of the case. There are also reports that the wife of the key witness was intimidated and coerced by authorities who were overly zealous about obtaining a conviction, St. Louis' KSDK-TV reports. Different Types of Damages The lawsuit asks for actual damages of $75 million and punitive damages of $25 million. Actual damages are awarded to compensate for actual losses (also called "compensatory damages"). The amount awarded is based on the proven harm, loss, or injury suffered by the plaintiff. The actual damages award does not include punitive damages, which may be awarded when a defendant's actions are especially reckless or malicious. Punitive damages are awarded in cases of serious or malicious wrongdoing to punish or deter the wrongdoer or deter others from behaving similarly. Considering the level of misconduct alleged and the number of involved parties, Ferguson is certainly poised well to obtain a hefty settlement from his wrongful conviction. Related Resources: Attorney for wrongly convicted Ryan Ferguson files $100M lawsuit (CBS News) Ryan Ferguson vs. State of Missouri (FindLaw) Man Framed for Murder by N.Y. Cop Gets $6.4M (FindLaw's Injured) How Do You Get a Conviction Vacated? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Truck Accident Brain-Damage Suit Settles for $22M

A New York City woman who suffered brain damage after a hit-and-run truck crash has settled with the truck driver and his employer, Duane Reade. The 2008 accident left Shirley Miller, 37, with brain damage, blindness, and very limited communications skills. The parties intend to settle the lawsuit for $22 million, according to Brooklyn Daily Eagle. If approved, it would be the largest personal injury settlement in New York state history, the New York Daily News reports. Even though Miller was the only one injured in the truck accident, her parents are also a party to the lawsuit. Vicarious Liability Miller and her parents were able to sue Duane Reade, an NYC-based drug store chain owned by the Walgreen Company, under the theory of vicarious liability. While truck drivers are usually liable for the accident they've caused, it may be difficult to also hold the trucking company liable unless the driver was acting within the scope of his employment. However, under the theory of vicarious liability, an employer can be held legally responsible for an employee's negligence if: The injury occurred when the employee was on the clock, The injury was caused by an activity that the employee was hired to perform, or The employee benefited in some way from the activity that the employee was performing at the time the injury occurred. Though lawyers for Miller and Duane Reade have agreed on a settlement, it's now up to the court to approve it. Aside from the record-setting proposed dollar amount -- $22 million -- details of the settlement have not been made public. Parents as Co-Plaintiffs One interesting fact about Miller's lawsuit is that her parents are also plaintiffs, though they weren't directly involved in the accident. Although reports don't indicate why Miller's parents are a party to the lawsuit, they may have joined to recover damages to pay for their daughter's future medical expenses and care. According to Brooklyn Eagle, Miller suffered serious brain damage and has very limited communication skills as a result of the accident. Her injuries likely require her parents to take care of her for the rest of her life, so the settlement award can help manage the healthcare costs. As this settlement proves, truck accident lawsuits can be complex and take years to resolve. That's why it's best to consult an experienced truck accident attorney if you've been injured in a truck crash and need more legal help. Related Resources: Brooklyn woman who was hit by Duane Reade truck receives $22M settlement (New York Daily News) Truck Accident Injuries Up 18%: NHTSA Report (FindLaw's Injured) Dump Truck Hits, Kills Mom Putting Kid in Van (FindLaw's Injured) Top 10 States for Fatal Truck Crashes (FindLaw's Injured)
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Top 10 States for Fatal Truck Crashes

The latest NHTSA report on truck accidents reveals the Top 10 states where large trucks were involved in fatal crashes. The data also shows that in some states, large trucks made up a significantly higher proportion of vehicles involved in fatal crashes than the national average. Of the 45,637 vehicles involved in fatal crashes on U.S. roadways in 2012 (the latest year for which statistics are available), 3,802 -- or 8.3 percent -- were large trucks, according to NHTSA. So where did most of the fatal crashes involving trucks take place? Top 10 States by Number of Trucks Involved in Fatal Crashes Looking at NHTSA's raw numbers, the Top 10 states where large trucks were involved in fatal crashes in 2012 were: Texas, where 543 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes (that's 14.3 percent of the nationwide total); California, where 244 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes (6.4 percent of the nationwide total); Florida, where 194 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes (5.1 percent of the nationwide total); Pennsylvania, 175 (4.6 percent); Georgia, 149 (3.9 percent); Ohio, 146 (3.8 percent); North Carolina, 132 (3.5 percent); Oklahoma, 124 (3.3 percent); and Illinois and Indiana, both of which saw 115 large trucks involved in fatal crashes (3.0 percent of the nationwide total). Top 10 States by Percentage of Trucks Involved in Fatal Crashes Along with showing where the most truck accidents occurred, NHTSA's report also revealed what percentage of vehicles involved in fatal crashes in each state were large trucks. The Top 10 states where trucks comprised the largest proportion of vehicles involved in fatal crashes in 2012 were: North Dakota, where 20.2 percent of vehicles involved in fatal crashes were large trucks; Wyoming, 16.8 percent; Nebraska, 14.7 percent; Iowa, 13.2 percent; Oklahoma, 13.1 percent; Texas, 11.8 percent; Arkansas, 11.5 percent; Kansas, 11.0 percent; Louisiana, 10.7 percent; and West Virginia, 10.4 percent. Liability for Fatal Truck Accidents Because there are many causes of fatal truck accidents, questions are often raised about issues such as: the truck driver's actions, whether the truck driver's employer or the truck's owner can be held liable, and how the actions of other drivers may have contributed to the crash. For truck crash victims, receiving compensation after an accident can be a complicated and time-consuming process. That's why, if you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a truck accident, it's best to consult with an experienced truck accident attorney to learn more about your legal options. Related Resources: State Traffic Safety Information For Year 2012 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) Truck Accident Injuries Up 18%: NHTSA Report (FindLaw's Injured) NHTSA Examines Role of Antilock Brake Systems in Reducing Truck Accidents (FindLaw's KnowledgeBase) Proving Fault in a Truck Accident: A Legal Checklist (FindLaw)
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Flushable Wipes Lawsuit Seeks Class-Action Status

The makers of Cottonelle and Costco-brand "flushable" wipes are facing a federal lawsuit that seeks class-action status. Dr. Joseph Kurtz, a New York dentist, is spearheading the flushable wipes lawsuit effort, claiming the wipes caused major plumbing and clogging issues in his home, ABC News reports. But what's the whole class action stink about? Flushable Wipes Lawsuit Kurtz claims the makers of Cottonelle and Costco-brand wipes should have known that the wipes' "flushable" claims were false and misleading, ABC News reports. In the suit, Kurtz claims consumers across the country have suffered clogged pipes, flooding, jammed sewers and issues with septic tanks due to the use of flushable wipes. The suit claims to represent 100 people who've faced those problems. But before Kurtz's lawsuit becomes a class action, there must be a hearing on class certification. Class Action Status A class action lawsuit is one in which a group of people with the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action sue the defendant as a group. The flushable wipes lawsuit asserts that people across the country have faced the same or similar plumbing problems after flushing the wipes. If a court agrees, then it will issue an order that defines the class and appoints a class counsel to lead litigation efforts. However, the defendants -- in this case, the flushable wipe manufacturers -- can try to argue that the alleged class should not be certified. People often seek justice in class action lawsuits when their injuries have been caused by defective products. This case involves a marketing defect claim that the wipes don't degrade as advertised. It's possible many of the individuals' economic injuries (namely, plumbing and repair costs) were relatively minor. For them, pursuing a solo lawsuit would not have been worth the time and money of litigation. But as a class action, their claims can be thrown into the same pot, adding up to an alleged $5 million in damages. Suing as a class also cuts down on each class member's time and expense because the class consolidates the attorneys and court costs and the group files with a representative plaintiff, called a "named plaintiff" or "lead plaintiff." In this case, Dr. Kurtz hopes to be the named plaintiff. In response to the flushable wipes lawsuit, a spokesman for Kimberly Clark, the maker of Cottonelle, told ABC News that "extensive testing" has proven its product is flushable. A reprsentative for Costco declined to comment. Related Resources: Man sues moistened-wipes makers over plumbing bills; defendant stands by product's 'flushability' (ABA Journal) How Much Is Your Personal Injury Case Worth? (FindLaw's Injured) Class Action Suits: To Join or Opt Out? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Browse Class Actions Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
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