Environmental lawsuits are a special type of personal injury lawsuit based on exposure to an environmental hazard. Unlike when someone hits you with a car, you are usually not the only person affected by exposure to a hazard. Hundreds or thousands of people may be exposed. Instead of each of those people suing individually, they often join together into an environmental class action lawsuit.
What is an Environmental Class Action Lawsuit?
An environmental class action lawsuit is a large lawsuit brought by a group of “similarly situated” plaintiffs. This means that a lot of people who suffered similar injuries get together and bring one big lawsuit.
There is usually a lead plaintiff, or group of plaintiffs, who first brought the case to a lawyer. There may be one law firm handling the class action lawsuit, or a series of lawyers who teamed up together.This law firm and lead plaintiff go to court to speak for all of the other people in the “class.”
Other victims are given the opportunity to join the class, which means be represented by this plaintiff and attorney, or opt out. If you choose to join the class, then you can’t sue the company yourself and you are bound by whatever happens in the class action lawsuit.
How Do I Join a Class Action Lawsuit?
In some cases, you may be invited to join a class action lawsuit. If you bought a defective product, for example, you might get a notice in the mail giving you the opportunity to join the people suing the company.
Sometimes, you may need to seek out the attorneys who are bringing the class action. Nationwide class actions are often advertised on television or the Internet. For example, you might see a commercial that says, “If you took Drug A and got diabetes as a result, you may be entitled to compensation. Please call this law firm.” You can then call the law firm and explain your situation.
You may have to prove that you are entitled to be a member of the class. This may meanproving that you were exposed to the environmental hazard and that you were hurt by this exposure.
How Is a Class Action Decided?
Many class action lawsuits settle. This means the company being sued decides they want to offer money instead of going to court. If the lead plaintiff and attorneys decide to settle, then a judge has to approve the settlement. The terms of the settlement will dictate how much each person in the class gets. The judge also has to approve those terms.
If the case doesn’t settle, it will go to court where jury decides if, and how much, the company has to pay. The judge then usually helps to work out a system for dividing up the monetary damages among the members of the class.
How Much Money Will I Recover?
The compensation you get depends on the terms of the settlement. Usually the money is divided according to a system of rules that consider the severity of each class members damages. For example, if a large group of people were exposed to toxic wastes and the company settles, people who were exposed and got cancer as a result will be entitled to a certain amount of money, while people who had a miscarriage as a result of exposure may be entitled to a bit less money.
As a member of the class, you will be bound by the terms and
conditions of the settlement and you will have to take the award that you get
as your only recovery for damages.
Famous Class Action Lawsuits
- The movie Erin Brockovich was based on a famous class action lawsuit in which citizens of Hinkely California sued Pacific Gas and Electric for contaminating the groundwater with chemicals. The Hinkley case settled in 1996 for $333 million dollars.
- Anderson v. Cryovac was a toxic contamination class action suit that was the basis of the movie A Civil Action.
Getting Legal Help
If you suspect you may have been exposed to an environmental hazard, you should speak with an environmental law attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can help you determine if you should join a class action, form a class action, or bring a private lawsuit on your own.