I have had the good fortune of contributing recently to an article published by Karin Price Mueller in the Star-Ledger in which this topic is discussed.
Class action lawsuits serve the purpose of protecting consumers from unfair, dangerous or illegal business practices by addressing small wrongs done to many people. By combining a large number of lawsuits into a single case, the group, or “class” can get experienced lawyers, expert witnesses and other professionals to help them.
Always read any class action lawsuit notice carefully to make sure that you do not have to take any action. By doing nothing you normally ‘opt in’ and will automatically receive something from the settlement – very likely a nominal amount.
Some settlements with a potential for larger individual awards do require that you provide information to calculate your potential settlement amount, so you should review the entire notice and consult with a lawyer if you don’t understand it. But be careful. If you are asked for money, confidential information such as your Social Security number or credit card information to participate in a class action, beware – it is very likely a scam.
There are often case-specific websites created for a class action that post settlement documents and other important information related to the case. Also on the notice or website you should find an email address or phone number where you can contact the lead attorney or law firm representing the class for more information. In your case, the insurance companies may have charged fees or not paid providers like doctors or hospitals on amounts that they were supposed to or done something else wrong that was contrary to their agreement with policyholders and caused losses to the policyholders.
Collectively the damages to the entire class can add up to millions of dollars. Individuals like you may have suffered losses that amount to pennies or it can be hundreds of dollars.
To pursue your claim on your own outside of the class action will probably be very expensive, time consuming and not worth the effort. If that’s your situation, the best course is to do nothing, in which case you should automatically remain in the class and let the case take its course. But, if you ever did suffer a significant loss, you should consider consulting with a lawyer who has experience with your type of case.
Your lawyer can explain the time and cost involved and whether their fees are likely to be paid separately from your award. You can then balance the damage you suffered against the possibility of success and so make an informed decision as to whether you should opt out of the class action lawsuit — if that’s an option.
Anthony J. Vignier, JD, CFP is an attorney and Certified Financial Planner in Kearny, New Jersey. He helps his clients with legal matters, asset and income protection strategies as well as investment guidance. Please call Anthony at (800) 707-5252 or send him a message through our contact form.