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Class action: starting a lawsuit with others

Class action lawsuits are a relatively recent phenomenon in Canada; however they are important to the legal system. Class actions make the judicial process more efficient and may also enable people to sue who otherwise may not have been able to afford to do so.

As with most laws in Canada, the law on class action lawsuits are guided by the provinces/territories. Most, but not all provinces allow class action lawsuits.

In 2002, the federal government joined Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Alberta in having class action legislation by amending the existing federal court rules.

Most provincial class action legislations are similar in content, though some specifics may vary.

What is a class action lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit in which an individual, or several people, sue on behalf of other people. The individual or individuals who start the lawsuit are the representative plaintiff(s), whereas the people they sue on behalf of are called “the class.”

Two factors are usually inherent in class action lawsuits:

  • There are usually too many people involved in the dispute, as to make it unreasonable for them all to sue; and
  • The reasons they’re suing are common to all members of the class.

For example, currently in Canada several class action lawsuits have been filed against Volkswagen. The issue in dispute is the same; the class actions on behalf of Volkswagen owners was started due to the faulty software the company installed in their vehicles that allowed them to cheat emissions tests.

However, class action lawsuits can be started over many other issues as well. For example, an environmental disaster, a defective product, a prescription drug that is defective etc.,

As long as the dispute is common to all members of the class and there has been damage, a class action lawsuit can go ahead.

How do I start a class action lawsuit?

Any person or persons who are willing to the representative plaintiff can start a class action lawsuit. Though often the plaintiff’s carry financial risk, usually the law firm will take over the costs of the class action, which relieves plaintiffs’ financial risk.

In order to start a class action lawsuit, you have to file a statement of claim.

However, a class action doesn’t exist until a judge gives the okay to go ahead. This process is called certification. Before certification can occur, the judge examines whether the action is suitable.

The provincial legislation, the class proceedings act, will outline what the requirements and rules (also called the test) are in order for the class action to be certified. For example, in Alberta and Ontario, the test for certification is in section five, whereas in British Columbia the certification test is in section four.

The lawyer for the plaintiff also becomes the lawyer for all the class members.

How do I join a class action lawsuit?

People who are class members are usually notified by the representative plaintiff that a class action has been started on their behalf. This is a requirement by the court.

If the class members are known, then this can be done by letter. If the class members are unknown, the notice of class action will be put in the newspaper and/or magazine.

If you are looking to start a class action lawsuit, then you should contact a law firm that deals with these types of lawsuits.

Read more:

Class Actions A Primer

Class Actions in British Columbia