Just last week I received a letter in the mail informing me that I was a member of a class action lawsuit against Apple’s hip iPods. Apparently the portable music devices had experienced battery failure on a massive scale, the letter said, and I could do one of two things. I could accept the settlement offer and sign away my own right to sue Apple individually about the battery, or I could opt-out. If I signed, Apple offered to give me a $50 gift certificate to the Apple store. After speaking with my lawyer, I signed the sheet.
Was that the right thing to do? I think it’s safe to say that we have all been, or will all be, holding a similar letter regarding another product at some point. If we don’t immediately discard what appears to be junk mail, the class action notice can be sound so complicated as to induce panic. In this panic, the second wave of valuable letters hit the trash cans. Of all our options, this is probably the least advised. You stand to lose nothing by participating in a class action lawsuit and could gain a great deal, especially if you value justice and corporate responsibility.
So what is a class action lawsuit and why are they contacting me? Class action lawsuits are supposed to give common, everyday people the ability to take on large corporations with reasonable expectations for justice. After all, one middle class guy alone would be squashed by Apple’s top-notch lawyers. He might not have lost very much, maybe he has to recharge his iPod a couple extra times a day, but you can be sure that Apple saved millions of dollars between this battery and the next best option. They took a shortcut, and the battery failed. The class action lawsuit allows Apple (and this is just an example) to pay a little bit back to a whole lot of people.
I was lucky, because Apple was already settling the case when I received the letter. There were no big legal battles, nothing drawn out. If the case goes to court, class action members must sign in or out at the beginning. If you don’t sign, you’re still in the lawsuit, and bound by the terms of judgment. Only by specifically opting out of the class action lawsuit can you disassociate yourself from it. If you opt out you will not receive any of the rewards at the end, but you reserve the right to file your own lawsuit later. The time period available for making this choice is small, which leaves you very little time to seek legal council. If you can, do so! Lawyers can be expensive, but the costs should be covered should your side with the settlement and an initial consultation can be invaluable in making your decision. This should not be a gamble but a carefully informed choice.
Receiving a letter in the mail or reading a published announcement about a class action lawsuit is the easy part. What happens if you have a problem, you observe that your neighbors have the same problem, and the company in question won’t respond? This is the point when you call a lawyer and begin your own class action lawsuit. Your lawyer will call theirs and I guarantee, a company that does not respond to your individual phone calls will hear their lawyer. Filing a class action lawsuit is not the easiest thing to do, but sometimes it is the only way to establish justice for consumers. When my iPod battery failed three years ago I did not consider class action as an option, but I am very grateful that some brave individual took it upon himself to pursue the lawsuit. I now have more confidence in Apple for offering an easy settlement for their defective product and more confidence in the judicial system.
If you have any questions about participating in a class action lawsuit, contact an experienced class action attorney to discuss your case.
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