10 Class Action Lawsuits that Redefined Legal Precedents

Legal Precedents

Class action lawsuits play a critical role in the legal systems of many countries. They allow a large group of individuals to come together and sue a defendant (or defendants) for damages. These cases can span areas such as product liability, consumer fraud, civil rights, and environmental harm.

Over the years, various class action lawsuits have set significant legal precedents. These precedents shape the course of future and current class action lawsuits in the United States.

10 Class Action Lawsuits That Redefined Legal Precedents

Let’s delve into some notable legal precedents in class action lawsuits:

1. Amchem Products Inc. v. Windsor (1997)

This U.S. Supreme Court case revolved around the rights of those exposed to asbestos. The Court held that a class action settlement that groups together plaintiffs with current injuries and those who might get injuries in the future was not permissible. The Court emphasized that representatives of a class must share the same interests as all members of the class. This ruling set a precedent on how to ascertain whether class members have sufficiently common claims.

Read More: Legal Precedents in Class Action Lawsuits

2. Walmart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (2011)

This landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision concerned gender discrimination claims by over a million current and former female Walmart employees. The Court ruled against certifying the class, emphasizing that the plaintiffs did not have enough in common to constitute a class. This decision set a higher bar for class certification, especially in employment cases.

3. General Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Products Liability Litigation (1994)

This case revolved around alleged design defects in GM trucks that made them more susceptible to fires in side-impact collisions. The Third Circuit rejected a national settlement for reasons that included inadequate representation and notice. This case has influenced how courts view the fairness of proposed class action settlements and the adequacy of representation.

4. Hanlon v. Chrysler Corporation (1998)

The Ninth Circuit Court upheld a nationwide settlement in this auto defect class action. The case has been cited for its discussion on the criteria that courts should use in evaluating the fairness and adequacy of class action settlements.

5. In re Tobacco II Cases (2009)

A significant California Supreme Court case revolved around deceptive advertising practices by tobacco companies. The court held that, for class certification, only the class representatives need to demonstrate they suffered injury-in-fact. This decision eased the burden on plaintiffs in certifying a class under California’s consumer protection laws.

6. AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (2011)

Another pivotal U.S. Supreme Court case, this decision affirmed that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts state laws that consider class-action arbitration waivers in consumer contracts unconscionable. The ruling has implications for the enforceability of arbitration clauses in consumer contracts, making it harder for consumers to initiate class actions if they’ve agreed to such clauses.

7. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (2016)

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt with whether plaintiffs have standing to sue for statutory violations in the absence of tangible harm. The court concluded that a mere statutory violation isn’t enough – the plaintiff must show that the violation caused a concrete injury. This case set a precedent in how courts determine plaintiffs’ standing in class actions based on statutory violations.

8. Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp. (1999)

A follow-up of sorts to the Amchem case, the U.S. Supreme Court took on another asbestos case in Ortiz. The Court found fault in the use of a “limited fund” class action, where the defendant’s available resources are limited and are intended to be distributed among the class members. The ruling further clarified and tightened the requirements for class certification, emphasizing the importance of individual class member rights in the structure of settlements.

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9. Comcast Corp. v. Behrend (2013)

This U.S. Supreme Court decision continued the trend set by the Walmart case in raising the bar for class certification. The case revolved around Comcast subscribers who alleged the company’s anticompetitive practices raised cable prices. The Court found that the plaintiffs failed to provide a way to measure damages on a class-wide basis. The decision underscored the need for plaintiffs to demonstrate a reliable and consistent method for calculating damages for the entire class at the certification stage itself.

10. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court (2017)

In this U.S. Supreme Court case, a group of plaintiffs, both from California and other states, brought a class action against the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb alleging injuries from a drug. The Court ruled that California courts lacked jurisdiction over claims brought by out-of-state plaintiffs when there was no significant link between their claims and the state. This ruling highlighted the limitations on state court jurisdiction in multi-state class actions.

These cases provide a glimpse into the evolving landscape of class action law. The decisions reached in these lawsuits don’t just resolve specific disputes – they set the rules for future class actions, influencing the legal strategies of plaintiffs and defendants alike. They underscore the significance of class action lawsuits in shaping broader legal and societal standards.