How to File a Class Action Lawsuit

lawyer holding up a book titled Class Action

Class action litigation represents a kind of “strength in numbers.” Proceeding as a class action allows multiple plaintiffs who have been harmed in the same manner to pursue compensation without navigating the challenges of bringing individual claims.

Who Can Bring a Class Action Lawsuit?

Just about anybody can file a class action lawsuit. Part 2, Section 2 of the B.C. Class Proceedings Act only requires that a plaintiff be a member of the proposed class and a resident of British Columbia to commence class action proceedings in B.C. Supreme Court.

To establish that you are a member of the proposed class, you must establish that you fit within the proposed class definition. Typically, the class includes people who were affected by the defendant’s actions.

How Is a Class Action Initiated?

A class action is often brought after a plaintiff has retained lawyers to act on their behalf. The lawyers file the Notice of Civil Claim. At this point, the case is a proposed class action.

The Notice of Civil Claim summarizes the facts of the case, the definition of the class, the nature of the defendant’s wrongful act, the injuries suffered by the members of the class, and the damages being sought. The pleading also requests an order from the court certifying the case as a class action.

What Is Class Action Certification?

Certification is the legal mechanism whereby a court orders that the claims of class members can proceed as a single action. According to Part 2, Section 4 of the BC Class Proceedings Act, the court must certify a class action when the following conditions are met:

  • The pleadings disclose a claim at law, known as a “cause of action”;
  • There is an identifiable class of 2 or more persons;
  • Common issues are raised by the members of the class (i.e., class members share common questions which, when answered, will advance the claims of class members);
  • A class action would be the preferable procedure for the fair and efficient resolution of the common issues;
  • A representative plaintiff has come forward who:
    • will fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class;
    • has produced a plan for the proceeding that sets out a workable method of advancing the proceeding on behalf of the class and of notifying class members of the proceeding; and,
    • does not have, on the common issues, an interest that is in conflict with the interests of other class members.

Additionally, the court must consider whether a class action is the appropriate method for achieving a fair and efficient resolution of the common issues.

What Are the Responsibilities of the Representative Plaintiff?

The representative plaintiff is often (but not always) the first person to consult a lawyer about the issue that gives rise to the class action. If you agree to act as the representative plaintiff, the lawsuit will be filed in your name.

As the case progresses, you will need to work closely with legal counsel for the class. Overall, you are responsible for acting in the best interest of the class. Additionally, your responsibilities include:

  • Reviewing legal documents
  • Attending pre-trial hearings
  • Helping with the preparation of litigation materials
  • Attending the trial

What Are the Responsibilities of Other Class Members?

Class members other than the representative plaintiff often have little to do until the case is resolved. Your only real responsibility is to decide whether you wish to participate in the class action and be bound by the result.

According to  Part 3, Division 2, Section 16 of the BC Class Proceedings Act, a class member may opt out of the class action after the case is certified. The court order certifying the proceeding as a class action will specify how long class members have to opt out.

If you wish to pursue the case individually, outside of the class action, you will need to follow the procedure for opting out in the manner specified by the court. You will also have the option to opt-out of the proceeding when the case is resolved either through trial or settlement. If you do not opt out of the class action, you will be considered a member of the class and will be bound by the result.