What Is a Representative Plaintiff in a Class Action Lawsuit?
A class action is a type of lawsuit that allows victims to seek collective relief both for themselves and for others who have similar claims against the same party. In this blog, we’ll examine the role, responsibilities, and intricacies of the representative plaintiff in class action lawsuits.
What Is a Representative Plaintiff in a Class Action Lawsuit?
The class in a class action lawsuit is the collective group of individuals who are bringing the claim against a party or parties. Every class has a representative and that representative agrees to act on behalf of the class as a whole. The representative plaintiff in a class action lawsuit is appointed by the court as part of the certification of the class action lawsuit. They work directly with the plaintiff’s lawyers to ensure that the interests of the class are both represented and pursued thoroughly. In essence, they act as a proxy for all members of the class they represent. There are no skills or qualification requirements placed on the representative plaintiff. Their experience, injuries, and harm endured will be detailed in the course of the lawsuit and within the Statement of Claim. The class representative becomes the only named plaintiff in the case.
What Makes Someone a Good Class Representative?
There are no special skills needed to be a representative plaintiff. The representative plaintiff must be someone who will diligently advance the interests of the class as a whole and who has no conflicts of interest with other class members. Some provinces have different requirements in determining the appropriate class representative. For example, in British Columbia, the representative plaintiff must be a resident of the province. Alternatively, in Ontario and Alberta, it’s not a requirement that the class representative resides in the province.
Does the Representative Plaintiff Have to Be a Person?
Some provinces allow an organization or body that is not a class member to serve as the class representative. However, the lawyers representing the class would be required to prove that a substantial injustice to the class would result if the organization or body were to be denied representative status. In Québec, an organization or body can be the class representative if a member of the organization or body is also a member of the class and if that member’s interests are also linked to the organization or body’s founding purposes. Ontario, on the other hand, does not include in their class proceeding statute any language regarding an organization or body that is not a class member serving as the class representative.
What Is the Representative Plaintiff Test?
The common law provinces have instituted legal requirements for an individual to qualify as the representative plaintiff. This is known as the Representative Plaintiff test. The Representative Plaintiff test is a requirement for a class action to complete the certification process and includes determining if the proposed plaintiff:
- Can fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class members
- Has a lawyer representing them who has provided a plan for the proposed class proceeding that includes a method by which the class members will be notified of the pending class action.
- Does not have any conflicts of interest that stand in opposition of other class members on the matters at issue in the case
What Are the Responsibilities of a Representative Plaintiff?
If selected as the representative plaintiff, some tasks you may be asked to perform include:
- Be available to communicate with plaintiff’s lawyers promptly and as required
- Collect and produce documents like receipts, emails, forms, or correspondence that pertain to the case
- Provide key details regarding the issue at hand in the lawsuit
- Maintain ownership of any defective products like vehicles or devices that relate to the case
- Provide instructions to the plaintiff’s lawyers on behalf of the class
What Are the Benefits of Being a Representative Plaintiff?
Most class representatives feel a duty to represent the class as a whole. They often say that the experience was rewarding because they got the chance to fight on behalf of people with a similar issue. Since class actions are also a means to encourage change and increased social responsibility, there is an innate reward in seeing a large corporation or government entity forced to answer for its wrongdoing. As the named plaintiff in the case, the class representative may feel a greater weight on their shoulders and a deeper feeling of satisfaction at the conclusion of the case. Because it’s such an important role, it takes a tough, determining, and tenacious person to fulfill the required duties. They are truly fighting for justice on behalf of many.
Can There Be More Than One Representative Plaintiff?
In some cases, there can be more than one representative plaintiff named in a class action. In some provinces, like Ontario, multiple representative plaintiffs can be required in order to represent separate claims against different defendants.. In British Columbia, however, one class representative can represent the entire class and it’s not necessary to have a representative plaintiff for each claim against each defendant in the case.
Can a Representative Plaintiff Be Removed?
While not common, there have been some instances where a court has deemed the representative plaintiff as unsuitable. Usually, this happens when the representative plaintiff is no longer able to carry out their duties. Sometimes the lawyers representing the defence will aim to remove the class representative as a legal tactic in combination with other defences. That’s why it’s imperative that the class have in place experienced lawyers to represent their interests.
Is the Representative Plaintiff Required to Travel?
The representative plaintiff does have additional responsibilities outside of those of other class members. They may be required to attend legal proceedings like cross-examinations, court hearings, and trials. This means occasionally class representatives are required to travel in order to perform their duties as representative plaintiff.
Is There a Cost Associated with Being a Representative Plaintiff?
Typically, there are no costs associated with serving as the class representative. Costs are absorbed by the law firm representing the class including travel expenses, document collection, and other court costs.
Does the Representative Plaintiff Receive Special Compensation?
As part of the settlement agreement, plaintiffs’ lawyers will ask the court to recognize the time and effort put forth by the representative plaintiff, usually in the form of an honorarium. The lawyers will outline the dedication and effort shown by the representative plaintiff, but the court is left with the final decision about granting the honorarium.