Glossary of Legal Terms Used in Class Action Litigation

Certification: A class action must be "certified" by a judge as being appropriate to proceed as a class action. The judge determines whether there is an appropriate number of people with claims against the defendant, and whether those claims are sufficiently similar to each other so that all the claims can be resolved in one trial.

Class Action: A class action lawsuit is simply the consolidation of many related lawsuits into one. If there are numerous plaintiffs with common legal issues to resolve, then a judge may let them join together as a class.

Class: Once a class action has been certified, the class is defined as all the people, within certain locations and a certain time frame, who have suffered from the same type of conduct caused by the defendant.

Class Representative: As part of a judge's determination of whether a class should be certified, the judge determines that one or more people will be allowed to continue as the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit and to represent the interests of all of the people in the class.

Complaint: A complaint is the legal document that is filed in court to begin a lawsuit. The complaint identifies the parties to the lawsuit and describes what the lawsuit is about.

Discovery: Discovery is a phase of litigation that allows both sides in a lawsuit to "discover" information about the case. During this phase, the parties get documents and testimony from each other and third parties in order to prepare the case for trial. The purpose of the discovery phase is to provide parties with as much information about the case so that they will not be surprised at trial, and so they can settle the case before trial if they choose to do so.

Fairness Hearing: In a class action, if the parties agree to settle the case, a judge must examine the proposed settlement to make sure that it is fair to all of the class members. The judge makes that determination at a hearing.

Judgment: After a case goes to trial and a decision has been reached by either a judge or a jury, the decision is written in a judgment, which explains who won the case.

Notice: A notice is a document that is sent to class members that explains the lawsuit and the class members' rights and responsibilities in the litigation.

Settlement: If the parties to a lawsuit agree on how the case should be resolved, before the case goes to trial, that is called a settlement. Most lawsuits are resolved by settlement instead of trial. In a class action, a judge must review the settlement to make sure that it is fair to all of the class members.

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