Group litigation vs class action: Understanding the key differences

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Are you familiar with terms like ‘group litigation’ and ‘class action’? Perhaps you’ve heard them mentioned on TV or in the media, but do you really understand what they entail and how they vary?

In this blog post, we’re here to demystify the dissimilarities between group litigation in the UK and class action lawsuits in the US. Whether you’re a curious citizen or someone considering legal action, join us as we delve into the world of group litigation vs class action and shed light on these distinctive legal procedures.

What is group litigation in the UK?

Group litigation, also known as ‘group legal action’, refers to a legal process in England and Wales where a group of individuals with similar claims collectively pursue a case against a company or individual. It provides a mechanism for people who’ve suffered similar harm or have a common legal issue to come together and seek justice as a unified group. This approach recognises that there’s strength in numbers and that joining forces can be more effective and cost-efficient than pursuing individual legal actions.

In group litigation, the individuals who form the group, known as claimants, share a common interest or grievance against a company or individual, known as the defendant. These claims can arise from various situations, such as product liability, environmental damage, consumer rights violations, or financial misconduct. By consolidating their claims into a single legal action, claimants can pool their resources, evidence, and expertise to build a stronger case against the defendant.

In addition to cost-sharing, group litigation offers other benefits. It allows for the efficient resolution of multiple similar claims, avoiding the need for separate trials and potentially inconsistent outcomes. It also provides a platform for raising public awareness about issues of widespread concern and can lead to systemic changes or policy improvements.

What is a class action in the US?

Across the pond, in the United States, a class action is a legal mechanism that enables a group of individuals, known as the ’class’, to collectively file a lawsuit against a defendant or defendants. It’s a way for people with common legal grievances to seek justice and compensation as a unified group. Class actions provide an avenue for individuals who’ve suffered similar harm or have common legal issues to come together and hold defendants accountable on a larger scale.

In a class action, the class is represented by a lead plaintiff, also known as the class representative. The individual acts as the spokesperson for the entire group and is responsible for making decisions on behalf of the class. The lead plaintiff works closely with their legal team to build the case, gather evidence, and present arguments in court.

The primary objective of a class action is to effectively resolve disputes involving numerous potential claimants with similar claims. By consolidating the claims into a single lawsuit, the court can ensure consistency in rulings, prevent conflicting decisions, and save time and resources.

One of the notable features of class actions is the ‘opt-out’ system. Potential class members are automatically included in the lawsuit unless they explicitly choose to opt-out and pursue their claims individually. This system recognises that many individuals may not be aware of their rights or have the resources to pursue legal action independently. By automatically including them in the class, the opt-out system aims to protect their interests and streamline the litigation process.

What are the key differences in group litigation vs class action?

Now that we have a basic understanding of both group litigation and class actions, let’s explore the key differences between the two:

Legal system

In the UK, group litigation falls under the jurisdiction of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), which governs the conduct of civil cases. This framework provides rules and guidelines for the entire litigation process. On the other hand, class actions in the US are primarily regulated by the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, although each state may have its own additional requirements. The legal systems in each country shape the procedures and requirements for bringing collective legal actions.

Opt-in vs opt-out

One significant difference between group litigation and class actions lies in the participation of potential claimants. In the UK, individuals who wish to be part of a group litigation case must opt-in by actively expressing their intention to join the claim. This means they must take specific action to become a participant. In contrast, in the US, class actions generally follow an opt-out system, where potential class members are automatically included unless they explicitly choose to opt-out of the lawsuit. This means that class members are automatically part of the lawsuit unless they specifically choose to remove themselves from it.

Lead claimant

In both group litigation and class actions, a lead claimant takes on the responsibility of representing the interests of the group. In the UK, this individual is known as the ’lead claimant’, while in the US, they’re referred to as the ’class representative’. The representative acts as a spokesperson, making decisions on behalf of the group and working closely with their legal team. They play a crucial role in the litigation process, ensuring that the group’s interests are adequately represented and protected.

Certification process

Another significant distinction is the certification process. In the UK, before a group litigation can proceed as a collective action, it must first be certified by the court. The court assesses various factors, such as the commonality of issues, the suitability of group litigation, and whether the lead claimant adequately represents the group. This certification process ensures that the case meets specific requirements and is appropriate for collective action. In the US, class actions also require certification, which involves meeting certain criteria, such as numerosity (a large number of potential class members), commonality of legal issues, typicality of claims, and adequacy of the class representative. Certification helps determine if a lawsuit can proceed as a class action and ensures that the interests of the class members are protected.

Costs and legal fees

In group litigation cases in the UK, the claimants often enter into funding arrangements to manage the costs and risks associated with the legal claim. These arrangements may include conditional fee agreements, commonly known as “no win, no fee” agreements. This is where the claimant only pays legal fees if they win the case. Additionally, claimants may opt for legal expenses insurance, which covers the costs of litigation.

In contrast, in class actions in the US, class members are typically not individually responsible for legal costs. Instead, attorneys may work on a contingency fee basis, where they receive a percentage of the settlement or award if successful. This arrangement allows individuals to pursue legal action without upfront costs and provides attorneys with an incentive to win the case.

The growth of group litigation in the UK

In recent years, the UK has witnessed a significant surge in the number of group litigations, establishing itself as a preferred destination for mass action. As highlighted in a Law Gazette article, claimants from various parts of the world are increasingly choosing British courts to pursue their collective legal claims.

This rise in group litigations can be attributed to several factors. The accessibility of funding options, including conditional fee agreements and legal expense insurance, has made it easier for individuals and organisations to participate in collective actions and address a wide array of legal issues.

The UK’s legal framework, particularly the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), has played a crucial role in facilitating group litigations. The CPR provides a comprehensive set of rules and guidelines that ensure a fair and efficient process for both claimants and defendants. British courts have earned a reputation for handling complex cases and offering transparent proceedings, contributing to the growing confidence in the UK’s legal system.

Law firms in the UK have also demonstrated their expertise in managing group litigations. With dedicated teams experienced in handling collective actions, claimants can benefit from the specialised knowledge and skills of these professionals, enhancing their chances of success.

The increasing growth of group litigations in the UK reflects the recognition of collective legal action as an effective means of seeking justice and holding wrongdoers accountable.

Contact us

If you believe your rights have been violated or you’re seeking compensation for a collective grievance, group litigation may be the answer. By joining forces with like-minded individuals, you can fight for justice and create a meaningful impact.

At Lanier, Longstaff, Hedar & Roberts, we have a wealth of experience in effectively representing consumers in group litigation claims, ensuring they receive the justice they deserve. Our dedicated team of lawyers has successfully secured millions of pounds in compensation for clients who’ve suffered wrongdoing.

To learn more about our ongoing claims and how we can assist you, visit our claims page.

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