A class action lawsuit is a legal action taken on behalf of a large group of people, all of whom were adversely affected in the same way by some event or policy. You may be most familiar with larger class action cases like the silicone breast implant settlement or the master tobacco settlement, or perhaps you think of class action suits on Wall Street involving investor fraud.
However, there are many smaller class action suits regarding defective products and/or misleading claims that may affect you without your knowledge. In these cases, you are eligible to receive compensation in terms of money, products, coupons, or some other form of reimbursement for harm.
Sometimes, you will be notified directly if you could be a potential beneficiary of a class action suit — for example, if you used a particular cell phone provider or purchased some big-ticket defective item between certain dates. If there are records to show you could fall into the group, such as paid bills and receipts, you could be notified directly and asked if you want to join the class. You will be asked to either opt-in or opt-out of the suit, and be given instructions from that point on. (If you join the class, you cannot file an individual lawsuit against the same client for the same harm — not important for small claims, but potentially important in large ones.)
In other cases, especially with inexpensive consumer products, it is impractical to attempt to contact every possible member of the class, and the class action must be publicized. The recent class action suit against Starkist is a perfect example. Starkist was charged with shortchanging customers of some canned tuna products by adding extra water. Starkist did not admit wrongdoing, but settled by offering either $25 in cash or $50 in redeemable coupons for Starkist products to harmed parties.
The settlement covers people who bought any cans of eligible Starkist tuna products between February 2009 and October 2014, which is probably most of America. To claim your compensation, go to this website and file your claim. The website contains instructions and FAQs to guide you through the process.
You must swear to have purchased at least one can of the eligible products in the covered time period. Receipts are not necessary in this case — realistically, courts cannot expect people to keep grocery receipts from 2009. The larger the collective payout in a class action suit, the more likely it is that proof will be required.
The tuna lawsuit was well publicized, mainly because of the novelty of free tuna as a settlement, but how do you find out about less-publicized cases? There are several websites that list class action lawsuits that are currently in the open settlement phase, including topclassactions.com, consumer-action.org and classactionrebates.com. These sites contain information on open lawsuits and how to determine if you qualify, and provide the necessary links to file a claim.
As of this writing, class action suits in the open settlement phase include Lenovo IdeaPad models with Wi-Fi connectivity issues, Gallup polls for automatic calls that violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Beck's Beer for misrepresenting the brewing location (domestic instead of German), and both Verizon and Sprint for unauthorized third party charges.
As an average consumer, you have decent odds of being affected by an open class action lawsuit. Take a moment to check. It costs you little time and could yield an unexpected windfall, whether in money or tuna.