Class action lawsuits serve as an important tool in helping victims of fraud, defective products, systemic abuse, discrimination, and other wrongdoing. A class action is a civil lawsuit where a single person or entity prosecutes a claim on behalf of a group of individuals who are similarly situated and called a class.
There is power in numbers, and class action litigation allows us to harness that power to secure justice on behalf of a group of people. Bringing together victims bound by similar circumstances gives us the ability to mount legal challenges that simply would not be possible in an individual lawsuit. Indeed, some of the most significant advancements in society today have been brought about due to class actions. For example, Brown v. Board of Education, which ended “separate but equal” racial policies in our education system, was brought by a group of parents as a class action.
But litigation is expensive and complex. Simply filing a complaint can cost hundreds of dollars. Discovery, depositions, and experts can cost hundreds of thousands – and sometimes millions – of dollars. In addition to those hard costs, most attorneys charge hundreds of dollars for each hour of their time. In many cases, it is too expensive for a person to bring an individual lawsuit and stand up to a company with deep-pockets funding their defense. Making individualized litigation even more unappealing is that, in most cases, one person’s financial damages do not warrant the time and expense of litigation.
With class actions, however, one person can bring a lawsuit on behalf of multiple people who experienced similar harms, aggregate their damages to justify the costs of litigation, raise the stakes for corporate defendants, and better illuminate the scope and breadth of the issue. And in most cases, Fegan Scott operates on a contingent-fee basis, only getting paid for our work if the case is successful, so our clients are not responsible for paying legal fees along the way. Thus, by litigating class actions on a contingent-fee basis, Fegan Scott pursues relief for groups of individuals that would otherwise have no practical means to justice.
Our personal experience recovering billions of dollars for clients and class members informs our belief that class action litigation is among the most powerful legal tools to address wrongdoing. And we are always looking for new and novel ways to use this specialized form of civil litigation to serve our clients in their quest for justice.
For example, we used class action litigation to seek justice for a group of current and former student-athletes who alleged they endured an intolerably sexualized environment on their school’s baseball team over the course of 22 years. The suit, filed against the University of San Francisco (USF), alleges that the university knew about the misconduct and did nothing to stop it. Furthermore, the NCAA, the largest college sports governing body, failed to enact or enforce policies to protect these student-athletes from such abuse. The class of student-athletes seeks to secure compensatory damages and force USF and the NCAA to adopt policies and procedures that prioritize the health and well-being of student-athletes.
Another example is the class action lawsuit we brought against the popular smartphone app, TikTok, and its parent company, ByteDance, Inc., for unlawfully collecting, using, and storing users’ biometric information and private data. Consumers who use the app and were concerned about the use and storage of their private data joined the class action, led by FeganScott attorney, Beth Fegan. No one person would have been able to fund the prosecution against the well-funded corporate defendants. But, by bringing together thousands of users of the app, we achieved the gravitas needed to bring the company to heel.
TikTok settled the lawsuit for $92 million and agreed to change its policies and disclosures. Class members were able to seek payment from that settlement and benefit from better protection of their data.
According to Beth Fegan, the historic $92 million settlement with TikTok demonstrated the power of a class action lawsuit, not only securing justice on behalf of TikTok consumers who had had their private data unlawfully stolen, but also putting potential violators on notice that there are real consequences for invasions of consumer privacy.
Now, these two cases are vastly different, but as class actions, they share a common goal – securing justice on behalf of a group of victims and putting a stop to unlawful behavior.
So, how exactly do class actions work and achieve justice from dozens to millions of people in a single lawsuit?
In our next blog post, we will discuss the various steps of a class action lawsuit, from the filing of the initial complaint to the administration of settlement funds and benefits to class members, using TikTok as an example.