The terms “Class Representative” and “Named Plaintiff” are interchangeable – both describe the person whose name is listed on a class action lawsuit, because they are standing up for a group of plaintiffs who have suffered the same loss or injury.
A class action is usually captioned like so: “JANE SMITH, on behalf of all others similary situated v. BADCORP INC.” or “JANE SMITH et al. v. BADCORP INC.”
If you are thinking of being a named plaintiff and wondering “What’s in it for me?,” there are both tangible and intangible benefits. First, and most obviously, without a plaintiff, there can be no class action. When a person elects to become a class representative in a lawsuit against an unethical corporation, they undertake an important public service. By bringing to light a harmful business practice, they inspire others to join them. In this way, that first courageous named plaintiff gives voice to dozens or even thousands of people who have been wronged. Therefore, because of the contribution of the named plaintiff, an injustice or series of injustices can be corrected.
Corporate wrongdoers often count on no one taking the time and effort to expose them; named plaintiffs in effect are the unlikely heroes, who have the power to change things for the better for a large group of people. One class action lawsuit can have a ripple effect, sending a message to other corporations or even an entire industry to clean up its act before they end up in court also.
Generally, named plaintiffs receive no more than the other members of the class. However, sometimes there are court-approved “incentive awards.” According to an excerpt from the National Association of Consumer Advocates, Class Action Guidelines:
“Most recent decisions…have approved the incentive award payments to named plaintiffs in recognition of their efforts in achieving the results obtained. Many cases note the obvious public policy reasons for encouraging individuals with small personal stakes to serve as class plaintiffs in meritorious cases….The amounts awarded in reported cases vary widely from token payments to amounts in the tens or—rarely—even hundreds of thousands of dollars. See e.g., Fears v. Wilhelmina Model Agency, Inc., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7961, 9-10 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (approving incentive awards of $25,000 and $15,000; noting cases approving awards as low as $336 and as high as $303, 000 most awards being in the $10,000 to $50,000 range).”
The named plaintiffs in the 2010 Extenze class action in California received incentive awards ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.
The named plaintiffs in the Muscle Milk class action each received $2,500.
Attorneys cannot pay people to become class representatives. A person who purchases a product for the sole purpose of becoming a named plaintiff lacks standing and cannot represent a class.
Standing up for What is Right
If you have been harmed by a company, think of how many others also have been injured by the same unethical business practice. On one end of the spectrum, maybe a bad medicine made you seriously ill, or caused a birth defect to your child. On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you were charged ten cents over the price advertised. Whatever the case, a business practice that has affected you in a negative way has likely affected many others also.
Finally, in those instances where our government refuses to crack down on unfair and deceptive business practices, class action lawsuits are sometimes the only available to “clean up” the marketplace.