A Class Action is an Action on behalf of a Class or group of individuals who have encountered the same problem or issue. Courts have sanctioned Class Actions because they allow for a number of Claims to be processed economically. A "class action" is a legal procedure whereby many claimants, who have been harmed in a similar manner and by a similar party, pool together and press their claim as one. Class action suits are most appropriate in cases where it would be too expensive for plaintiffs to press their claims individually. In the normal course, a "representative plaintiff" is nominated. This plaintiff is one whose case will speak for that of the whole class.
The first phase of a Class Action is the Certification Stage. During this phase, Court approval is sought for the claim to proceed as a Class Action. While preparing for this phase, law firms will conduct research into the Defendant(s), research on applicable law, and will also recruit potential clients or class members. On experience, many Class Actions settle either shortly before or after Certification. Not all Actions settle in this phase however, and the claim will then proceed to the Litigation Phase. Ultimately the matter may proceed to trial.
By virtue of their complexity, both the Certification and the Litigation phases can take significant time to complete. Even after a Settlement is reached, it can take considerable time to process individual claims. All claims are processed individually by an independent Court-appointed Claims Administrator in Ontario.
There are advantages to joining a class action suit. Generally, the benefits are as follows: The plaintiffs' resources are pooled, the class obtains strong leverage to negotiate a settlement, gathered information is available to all clients, limited expectations of involvement are placed on individual claimants, and reduced cost to the claimants.