The best way for consumers to assert their individual rights is often by joining other consumers in a class action lawsuit. When big companies break the law, they can harm many people, albeit in relatively small amounts per person. Pursuing these cases on an individual basis is sometimes impractical, but litigating many minor claims as one large class action gives consumers strength in numbers.
Obtaining a Washington consumer class action lawyer is an important step in holding companies accountable and deterring them from engaging in unfair practices. The Financial Justice Initiative combines the resources, experience, and skill of seasoned attorneys from two leading consumer protection law firms. We fight for consumer rights nationwide and have taken on some of the country’s biggest companies in class action litigation, including financial institutions, title insurance companies, automakers, health insurance companies, telecommunication companies, and retailers.
If you were harmed by fraudulent business practices, a defective product, unlawful telephone solicitation, unfair collection practices, or other violations of state or federal consumer protection laws, contact our team of experienced attorneys for a free case review.
Consumer class actions can arise from virtually any good or service that members of the public use or purchase. They can also involve entities such as debt collectors and credit reporting bureaus. A LexisNexis analysis of consumer litigation trends from 2009 to 2018 found that over the 10-year period, the number of consumer protection class action lawsuits tripled.
Typically, a consumer protection class action lawsuit alleges violation of one of the following federal consumer protection laws:
• Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
• Truth in Lending Act (TILA)
• Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)
• Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA)
• Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA)
Class actions are also filed under state consumer protection acts, such as New York’s Rent-To-Own and Deceptive Consumer Practices statutes, Washington State’s Consumer Protection Act, the California Unfair Competition Law, and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
The lawyers of the two law firms that make up the Financial Justice Initiative have experience representing consumers in local class actions, including cases involving:
• Inaccurate credit reporting
• Impermissible credit pulls
• Unfair mortgage servicing practices
• Predatory rent-to-own contracts
• Hidden fees and charges
• Unfair collection practices
• Product Defects
• Other marketplace deception
It is advisable to work with a legal team experienced with a variety of class action suits.
It is simply not feasible to bring an individual lawsuit for a $30 overdraft fee assed by a bank, inaccurate information provided about you by a consumer reporting company, a background check by an employer that you did not consent to, or similar small-dollar amount cases. However, when you add up the damages these practices cause across thousands of consumers who are similarly harmed, a lawsuit is feasible.
While the dollar amount awarded to any one consumer is usually not very large (the FTC report noted above says that median compensation ranges from around $70 to $200 per class member), class actions play a vital role in promoting fair and transparent corporate behavior. Around 60 percent of Americans say that are dissatisfied with the size and influence of major corporations. Nearly seven in 10 Americans think companies’ top priority is their shareholders. Just 22 percent think the priority is customers.
Many class action settlements include terms that force companies to stop engaging in the unlawful practices that led to litigation. It can also force companies to repay funds gained through illegal or unethical business practices. The lawsuit itself may shine a light on bad corporate behavior, prompting fed up consumers to take their business elsewhere.
Some class action lawsuits do result in substantial compensation for class members. For example, lawyers from the Financial Justice Initiative were involved in obtaining a $15 million settlement with Sterling Infosystems, which is one of the world’s largest providers of background checks. In that case, a proposed class action, the consumers alleged Sterling violated certain provisions of the FCRA by reporting information about “high risk” addresses older than seven years from the date of the background check, reporting duplicative address information, and reporting inaccurate address information.
Aside from one-time payments, consumers may also receive free services and other types of compensation. For instance, in a data breach class action, attorneys from the Financial Justice Initiative reached a settlement with Premera Blue Cross that provided consumers services such as free credit monitoring and identity theft restoration services, in addition to losses for unauthorized charges. In the Midland Funding interest rate litigation settlement, handled by FJI’s Schlanger Law Group, class members who were overcharged for debt received $9.25 million in balance reductions.
The purpose of Federal Rule 23, which regulates class action lawsuits, is to help remedy the grievances of small claimants. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg explained in 1997 that class actions vindicate “the rights of groups of people who individually would be without effective strength to bring their opponents into court at all.”
Although complicated in their specifics, some of the basics of class action lawsuits are as follows:
• Lead Plaintiff: One or more individuals, known as lead plaintiffs or named plaintiffs, files the lawsuit along with their class action attorney;
• The Class: The lead plaintiff(s) represent a large number of people (known as the class) who have suffered similar types of harms at the hands of the same company. Anyone who is a part of the class is called a class member;
• Certification: The court must certify a class action lawsuit before it is allowed to proceed. Certification means that a court has determined a class action is the best remedy for addressing the legal claims raised. To gain certification, a class action must meet certain requirements, including having similar questions of law or fact that are common to the class;
• Resolution: After the legal proceedings, the case is resolved. The case could go to trial and be decided by a judge, but most class actions settle before trial;
• Notices: In a certified class action, class members are notified of their rights via mail or email. While class member don’t have to do anything to join a class action, they may need to submit a claim form to receive a cash payment and/or other benefits if the case is settled or resolved in favor of the class after a trial. Class members have the option to “opt out” if they do not wish to participate. Members may opt out if they wish to pursue their own individual lawsuit.
A local attorney could help a consumer determine whether they qualify for a class action suit.
Part of the class action certification process involves close court scrutiny of the attorney or law firm representing the class. Due to the complex and technical legal issues that class actions raise, the court ensures that only attorneys who have experience handling class actions, are knowledgeable of the relevant laws, and have sufficient resources to represent the class are selected as representatives.
The two firms that make up the Financial Justice Initiative—Terrell Marshall Law Group and Schlanger Law Group LLP—have proven track records of successfully litigating class action lawsuits. Our Washington consumer class action lawyers have prosecuted class actions against defendants ranging from smaller businesses to Fortune 500 companies. From our offices in New York and Seattle, we represent consumers nationwide.
Do you need representation? Have a problem that involves harm to a large number of people? Call us today or click HERE for a free consultation.
The Financial Justice Initiative