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You could be a party in a class action lawsuit and you might not even know it. If you have ever received a notice of a pending or completed class action, you may be wondering what you need to do. While many class action notices do not require any action on your part, below is some basic info.

Read the Notice Very Carefully

A crucial aspect of a class action lawsuit is determining exactly who is included in the definition of the class. When you received a letter or an email entitled, “Notice of Proposed Class Action Settlement,” it is because the attorneys for the class have determined that you might be included in the class.

The first thing to do if you receive a class action notice is to read the notice very carefully. Notices are sent at various times in a class action lawsuit. The first notice is sent at the time the lawsuit is certified as a class action. In most cases you will be automatically included in the class if you fit within the description of the class and if you do nothing when you receive the notice. You have essentially 3 possible options when you receive a class action notice: (1) Participate as a class member; (2) Not participate in the lawsuit at all (Opt out); or (3) Participate as a named plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Participating as a Class Member, Opting Out, or Participating as a Named Plaintiff

(1) Participating as a Class Member.

In most instances you will automatically be included as a member in the lawsuit if you fit the description of the class and do nothing when you receive notice of the lawsuit. However, participation in the class action lawsuit in this way will mean that you are giving up any right you might have had to pursue a remedy for your injury in a private lawsuit.

(2) Opting Out.

If you do not want to participate in the lawsuit as a member of a class, you will need to opt out of the class. The notice you receive will explain how to do that. There will also be a cut-off date, and you must send your notice to opt out of the class by the date specified or you will be included in the class and lose any rights to file a lawsuit on your own. However, timely opting out means that you can sue the defendant on your own, instead of being part of a class. In deciding whether to opt out and pursue the defendant on your own, there are many factors to consider, like the potential cost of litigation and whether your damages are different than the rest of the class.

(3) Participating as a Named Plaintiff.

You have one other option if you qualify as a class member. You can hire your own attorney and participate in the case as a named party. You might want to do this if your damages are large and you want the advantage of playing a more active role in the lawsuit. If you have a great deal at stake in a class action lawsuit for example, if you have suffered a serious injury from a defective product or have lost a large amount of money because of illegal market manipulation in a securities case you should consult with an experienced class action attorney before you decide whether to participate as a class member, opt out, or participate as named plaintiff.

A final option, available only if you stay in the settlement, is to file an objection with the court. You may object to any part of the settlement and the Court will consider all timely filed objections. The notice will contain the date when any objections must be filed, and include instructions on where to send your objection.

You may also receive a class action notice at the time of settlement. You should carefully read the terms of the settlement and go to any website listed to get complete information. If you have a large amount at stake, again, you should consult a qualified class action attorney to advise you on whether to accept the settlement or to opt out.

If you decided to participate as a class member and do nothing, you will eventually be notified of any settlement or recovery and told how to collect your portion of the recovery by filing a claim form. Read the notice carefully and follow the instructions.

Additional resources provided by the author

Timothy L. Miles has dedicated his career to representing shareholders in complex class-action litigation. Whether serving as lead, co-lead, or liaison counsel, Mr. Miles has helped recover hundreds of millions of dollars for defrauded investors, shaped precedent-setting decisions, and delivered real corporate governance reforms. Judges and peers have repeatedly recognized Mr. Miles’ relentless advocacy for shareholders, as well as his unbendable ethical standards. For example, Mr. Miles is a member of the prestigious Top 100 Civil Plaintiff Trial Lawyers: The National Trial Lawyers Association, which is by invitation only and is “extended to those attorneys who exemplify superior qualifications, trial results, and leadership in their respective state based upon objective and uniformly applied criteria.” The National Trial Lawyers Association explained the significance of this honor: “With the selection of Timothy L. Miles by The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100, [Mr.] Miles has shown that he exemplifies superior qualifications, leadership skills, and trial results as a trial lawyer. The selection process for this elite honor is based on a multi-phase process which includes peer nominations combined with third party research.” Mr. Miles other recognitions include: • The AV® Preeminent™ Rating by Martindale-Hubble® in Securities Law, Litigation and Class Actions (2014-2018). The AV Rating is the highest possible rating given by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for a lawyer and is established on a peer-review basis. The AV Preeminent designation signifies that Mr. Miles has been rated by judges and fellow attorneys as having the highest possible rating for legal abilities and ethical standards. The rating is awarded to less than five percent of all attorneys across the United States, and is the highest rating offered by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. • The AV® Preeminent™ Attorney – Judicial Edition, the Highest Possible Rating in Both Legal Ability & Ethical Standard Reflecting the confidential opinions of members of the Bar and Judiciary by Martindale-Hubble (2017-2018). • The Top-Rated Lawyer in Litigation™ for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability by Martindale-Hubble® (Feb. 2015). • Superb Rated Attorney, (10.0 out of 10), the Highest Rating Possible by Avvo. • Avvo Top Rated Lawyer 2017 & 2018 (Avvo). . • America’s Most Honored Professionals – Top 1% (2016-2018) (American Registry). Mr. Miles focuses his practice on securities fraud class actions, shareholder derivative actions, and corporate mergers and acquisitions class actions.