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The class action lawsuits

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Meaning of class action.
  3. The consequences of the development of class actions on the western countries legal systems.
    1. Critics.
    2. The billionaire American lawyers.
    3. Are class actions coming to France?
  4. The example of the 'big fat' class action.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Indicative bibliography.

We read about class actions almost everyday in the newspapers. The idea to gather together in order to sue big companies such as tobacco or food companies originates from the United States; however, as these lawsuits are increasingly successful, the phenomenon currently spreads into the whole occidental world. A class action lawsuit is the way used by several people (for instance, thousands of consumers), to have their rights acknowledged. In the American federal Courts, the principle of class action is given in the 23rd article of the Civil Federal Code. That means that the companies can be sued by persons who live in different States. The claim is made by one or several plaintiffs (whose names are known by the Court) in the name of an indistinct group of persons (which is called a putative class). These persons must have suffered a common injury. Usually, this injury is linked to an action made by a company or a default in a product.

[...] Besides, the risk is to understand the class action as a to the big companies, which would prevent them to innovate. For example, the companies will hesitate before launching a revolutionary product, because they will be afraid of eventual class actions around this product. As a general rule, the most powerful and rich entities do not like class actions, because they prevent them to use their financial power against individuals, in an intimidating strategy. B. The billionaire American lawyers The success of class actions has led to the multiplication of lawyers who are only motivated by the financial advantages. [...]

[...] For example, after, the class action against Big Tobacco in 1998, the American cigarette companies had to pay 246 billion dollars. This lawsuit was a success for the famous American lawyer Richard Scruggs. Scruggs and his allies did not use the product liability argument to win the battle, but they used two theories: - First, consumers had not been properly informed of, or warned of the risks of smoking, because the tobacco industry withheld information and/or lied. - Second, smokers are not in a position to evaluate the warnings they receive, because most of them were children when they began to smoke, and once they started, they could not stop. [...]

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