class action

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class action,

in law, a device that permits one or more persons to sue or be sued as representative of a large group of people interested in the matter at issue. The court in whose jurisdiction a suit is brought typically has wide discretion in determining that a class will be so represented. Certain requirements must be met, e.g., the class must be so large or dispersed that actual joinder of all individuals would be impractical; there must be questions of law and fact common to all members, and these must outweigh any individual questions; and the named parties must adequately represent the interests of their class. Certain forms of notice to members of the class, e.g., by newspaper or broadcast publication or by mail, are also required. In most types of suit, all members of the class are bound by the decision, unless a member of the class opted out of the action at the beginning of the lawsuit. An absentee member may be able to contest the outcome on the basis that due process of law was not adhered to.

In the United States, federal and most state courts allow class action suits. Such suits have figured prominently in civil-rightscivil rights,
rights that a nation's inhabitants enjoy by law. The term is broader than "political rights," which refer only to rights devolving from the franchise and are held usually only by a citizen, and unlike "natural rights," civil rights have a legal as well as a
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 litigation and in other cases brought to further social and economic reform. In recent decades they have been employed notably by groups of consumers and others seeking to affix liabilityliability,
in law, an obligation of one party to another, usually to compensate financially. It is a fundamental aspect of tort law, although liability may also arise from duties entered into by special agreement, as in a contract or in the carrying out of a fiduciary duty.
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 for harm caused by various products, especially through manufacturers' negligencenegligence,
in law, especially tort law, the breach of an obligation (duty) to act with care, or the failure to act as a reasonable and prudent person would under similar circumstances.
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. Major litigation against the producers of the Dalkon shield (an intrauterine device; see birth controlbirth control,
practice of contraception for the purpose of limiting reproduction. Methods of Birth Control

Male birth control methods include withdrawal of the male before ejaculation (the oldest contraceptive technique) and use of the condom, a rubber sheath
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), of Agent OrangeAgent Orange,
herbicide used by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War to expose enemy guerrilla forces in forested areas. Agent Orange contains varying amounts of dioxin. Exposure to the defoliant has been linked with chemical acne, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease,
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 (a herbicide used as a defoliant in the Vietnam War), and of asbestosasbestos,
common name for any of a variety of silicate minerals within the amphibole and serpentine groups that are fibrous in structure and more or less resistant to acid and fire.
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 insulation has involved class action suits.

Since the 1980s such suits have been under attack, along with negligence litigation in general, with opponents, mainly conservatives and business interests, arguing that many lawsuits are frivolous and that awards are out of proportion to the offense in some juridictions. A study published in 2004 that reviewed several hundred state and federal class action lawsuits from 1993 to 2002 found that, adjusted for inflation, the average annual award in such suits varied but did not progressively increase, while the median award was relatively constant. At the same time, however, federal court data showed that the number of class action lawsuits doubled from 1997 to 2002. A 2011 Supreme Court decision on a proposed class action lawsuit concerning gender discrimination in employment tightened the requirements for determining what constitutes the common issue defining the class. Class action suits in the early 21st cent. have increasingly been limited by arbitrationarbitration, industrial,
method of settling disputes between two parties by seeking and accepting the decision of a third party. Arbritration differs from mediation in that the arbritrator does not attempt to find a compromise acceptable to the two parties, but decides in favor
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 clauses in consumer contracts that require the purchaser of a product or service to waive the right to sue or participate in a class action.

Bibliography

See study by S. Yeazell (1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
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