Class Action vs. Individual Lawsuit: What's the Difference?

Courts around the globe hear legal arguments every day. There are different types of courts, and the nature of the legal matter determines which courts hear specific cases. For example, in the United States, a federal court or a state court may hear a criminal case. A divorce case or personal injury lawsuit is typically filed in state court.

Lawyers choose a legal specialty while earning their law degree. Their specialization determines what types of cases they handle for clients. Attorneys may also focus on class action lawsuits or individual lawsuits or represent parties in both matters. Let's examine the difference between a class action and an individual lawsuit.

What is a class action lawsuit?

Class action cases occur when plaintiffs file a suit on behalf of a larger group of people. These cases involve defendants who have allegedly harmed a large group of people who suffered similar injuries. Enabling multiple victims to pool resources and pursue a joint legal case offers advantages to all parties. For example, the average length of time to complete a criminal trial in 1996 was over seven months. From the moment a plaintiff initiates legal action, multiple steps must be taken. Their attorney must file legal paperwork with the courts, have the defendants served, and attend pre-trial conferences.

The defendants are allocated time to have their legal team prepare their defense. The parties' lawyers may also meet for settlement conferences, attempting to agree on terms that would resolve the legal dispute without a trial. In situations where there are multiple plaintiffs, the plaintiffs don't have to wait for earlier cases to be resolved before pursuing legal action. The plaintiffs also share lawyers and resources. Class action suits prevent courts from being backed up with multiple comparable cases. They allow the defendants to handle a significant number of legal issues simultaneously, reducing their legal fees.

Many class action suits involve companies producing products that cause physical harm. The Zantac cancer lawsuit is a class action lawsuit against Sanofi, the Florida drug manufacturer that produced Zantac. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which evaluates and approves the sale of prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and other products, rescinded Zantac approval in 2020. Consumers can no longer purchase over-the-counter or prescription Zantac. Zantac contains NDMA, which increases the risk of developing several types of cancer, including stomach cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer. The courts are combining cases for individuals diagnosed with cancer after taking Zantac. There's a separate class action suit for individuals who took Zantac but have not been diagnosed with cancer.

What is an individual lawsuit?

Individuals hire lawyers to handle legal matters. For example, people living near Sydney, Australia, may turn to lawyers in Sutherland Shire to address some legal needs. The Solari and Stock attorneys handle family law cases, including divorces and child support cases. They also prepare wills and represent individuals contesting wills. Their commercial law team helps individuals purchase businesses and prepares legal agreements between business partners.

Individual lawsuits involve one plaintiff pursuing legal action against a person, multiple persons, a company, or an organization. Individual lawsuits can address various legal matters, such as a dispute between a landlord and tenants or a medical malpractice case. Individuals may also pursue individual personal injury lawsuits. Suppose you were in a car accident caused by another party's negligence. You may have grounds to sue the negligent driver. Alternatively, suppose your child suffered a birth injury because of medical malpractice. In that case, you may have a legal case against the medical professionals who handled the delivery and the medical facility where the malpractice occurred.

Class action suits are lawsuits representing multiple parties with similar legal issues against the same defendant. Individual lawsuits involve an individual pursuing a court case against a defendant.