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  The Truth About Class Actions



So-called class action “reform” is intended to weaken and discourage class actions and substantially lessen their value as a weapon for consumers victimized by negligence, fraud and reckless misconduct. The business proponents of this “reform” know the true benefits that class actions provide consumers.

Class actions promote efficiency and level the playing field.
Class actions give persons who are injured in the same manner by the same defendants the ability to hold the wrongdoers accountable. They are an efficient mechanism to deal with what would otherwise be a large number of small and repetitive cases with the same facts and the same law. Class actions make it economically feasible to seek justice for smaller, but not inconsequential injuries. Collective action also creates the power and ability to level the playing field between ordinary citizens and powerful defendants.

Class actions promote safety.
In addition to providing a remedy for injured consumers, successful class actions often prohibit companies from engaging in specific unsafe practices. Moreover, the potential of a successful class action motivates business to weigh consumer protection and safety in their “bottom line” decisions, resulting in safer products for all Americans.

Class actions protect our health and environment.
By allowing groups of citizens to band together and demand a healthy environment, class actions often result in courts requiring companies to stop poisoning neighborhoods, lakes, streams and air. Without the class action tool, it would often be impossible for ordinary citizens to take on powerful defendants when they damage the environment and cause illness.

Federal and state judges oppose federalizing state class actions.
The Federal Judicial Conference, headed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and the Conference of Chief Justices, which represents the state chief justices, oppose federalizing state class actions based on principles of federalism and judicial workload. No one representing the judicial branch of government thinks usurping the power of state courts is a good idea.

Proposed reforms will further backlog the already overburdened federal courts.
Federalizing state class actions would exponentially delay the judicial process for injured consumers and other class action plaintiffs. Federal courts, already overwhelmed by the large number of criminal drug cases and a substantial judicial vacancy rate, do not have the resources to handle complex issues of state law. Moreover, federal courts are facing a huge budget crisis, which forces them to cut court hours and lay off employees.

Congress should support balanced court reforms.
While there are some reasonable reforms of class action procedures to be considered, any such changes must balance the rights of both defendants and plaintiffs. Instead, proponents of reform often seek to advance the priorities of Big Business while undermining court protections for average citizens.


Reprinted with the permission of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.  Posted January 2005 to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America website.