You may, without even realizing it, be part of a class action and be entitled to compensation. For example, someone may have filed a suit against an enterprise or government on behalf of all the individuals in the same situation or class, and this may include you. However, you must meet certain conditions.
Until a judgment has been rendered, you do not need to do anything. The person who filed the class action, the applicant, is your representative.
What is a class action?
A class action is a way to ask the court to repair the harm caused to many different people. The person who files the class action must be part of the class, and is called the representative, even if the person has not received a mandate from the other members of the class.
A class action, also known as a class action suit, differs from other legal proceedings. One of its objectives is to facilitate access to justice for members of the general public, by re-establishing a balance between the parties.
Unlike other legal proceedings, it must first be authorized by the court, in a judgment authorizing the class action. This launches the proceeding which may lead to a trial, after 2 or 3 years or even longer, because class actions often involve complex litigation.
Class actions can be launched at the provincial, national or international level.
In addition, a class action can be pursued in Québec at the same time as another class action, based on the same grounds, outside Québec. For example, a representative may file a class action in Québec even if another class action is under way in the United States for the same problem, against the same enterprise or government (the defendant). This is known as a “multi-jurisdictional class action”.
Compared to normal court proceedings, a class action offers several advantages:
- it is a simple and effective way to defend your rights as a citizen;
- it makes justice more accessible, by eliminating various obstacles such as economic or psychological barriers (anxiety, etc.);
- it gives your case more weight, by grouping together all the people in the same situation;
- it encourages better corporate behaviour, in particular through compliance with the standards and regulations in force.
In addition, for you a class action is free of charge. You have nothing to pay to participate, or to receive compensation. You are also not required to pay the defendant’s costs if the judge dismisses your case. However, some of your compensation may be used to pay for your group’s lawyer.
A class action gives you some indirect advantages:
- it encourages the defendant to pay attention even to minor incidents;
- it requires the defendant to treat all the members of your class fairly.