When a company or organization’s negligence causes harm —even “just” financial harm—to a large group of people, the legal remedy is often a class action lawsuit. Pursuing a class action lawsuit allows a multitude of people to pursue legal accountability and financial compensation in a more streamlined process. Class action lawsuits are the type of civil lawsuits most commonly filed by private individuals (as opposed to government entities) following a data breach.
Every class action needs a person called a lead plaintiff. If you’re thinking about being a lead plaintiff but you have some hesitations, hearing directly from our experienced attorneys may help you decide if taking this step is right for you. For the most part, serving as a lead plaintiff in a data breach class action claim isn’t as challenging as potential claimants fear it’s going to be.
Simply put, a class action is a legal action—litigation, or a lawsuit—in which a group, or class, of people are suing a common defendant (or multiple common defendants).
Class action lawsuits can be filed over all types of matters: false advertising, product defects, predatory lending, employment discrimination, civil rights, and more. In a data breach class action lawsuit, the class is the group of consumers affected by the security incident, and the defendant is typically a company that, the plaintiffs allege, failed to securely protect the sensitive personal data in its possession.
In any class action, someone has to be the first person to file a lawsuit. This person is called the lead plaintiff. Their name is the one that appears on the lawsuit complaint.
The lead plaintiff’s case should be representative of the other cases that will be included in the class action matter. The attorney or attorneys that the lead plaintiff chooses to represent them and to file the lawsuit on their behalf serve as the attorneys representing all plaintiffs who are included in the class.
In today’s busy world, no one wants to spend their time pursuing a legal matter, but you still want to hold the company legally accountable for what it’s done and get the money you deserve.
A potential lead plaintiff may immediately worry that they don’t have time to deal with taking a lead role in a legal matter. To fully understand what kind of time commitment you’re being asked to give as a lead plaintiff, it’s important that you remember that actively working on your claim is your lawyer’s job, not your responsibility. A lot of time is likely to pass as the class action claim works its way through the legal system, but this doesn’t mean that being a lead plaintiff will take up a lot of your time, personally.
If your concern about agreeing to be the lead plaintiff for the legal matter is the potential for a large time commitment, let our experienced attorneys put your mind at ease. Class actions, and legal matters in general, often take years to resolve. This doesn’t mean that you’re spending years of your life actively working on the claim.
The amount of time most lead plaintiffs spend actively involved in the legal process is minimal. You talk to your attorney when there’s a new development, an update, or a question about your claim. You work with your lawyer on answers to written interrogatories. The only legal proceedings for which you are likely to need to make an appearance include a deposition, in which you answer questions under oath as part of the discovery process of the claim, and potentially mediation, arbitration, and/or trial.
Generally, the time commitment you’re looking at as a lead plaintiff is a matter of mere hours, spread over the course of one or more years.
We know you’re busy. That’s why our class action lawsuit attorneys make every possible effort to respect your time and help you understand what’s expected of you.
Is it going to be a lot of work to act as the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit? Again, the work is your lawyer’s responsibility, not yours.
A lot of people who are eligible to be part of a class action claim are concerned about the amount of work that will be required of them, especially in a lead plaintiff role. After all, a title like “lead plaintiff” sounds pretty important, and you just don’t have the time or energy to undertake a huge project like managing a lawsuit on top of all of your other obligations.
It’s true that the lead plaintiff has more responsibilities than other class members—but that’s primarily because class action lawsuits for class members are generally very hands-off.
As the lead plaintiff of a class action lawsuit, your responsibilities will typically be comparable to those of a plaintiff pursuing an individual claim. You will work with your attorneys, but they will handle every aspect of the legal process for you. Your case will be the one that moves all cases involved in the class action forward, but the actual work of navigating the legal process is in the hands of your lawyer.
While your attorney will help you understand what to expect from a legal proceeding like a deposition or a trial, there’s not a lot you personally have to prepare. Your role, generally, isn’t to be the one to prove the liability of the defendant or the extent of the damages—that’s the lawyer’s role.
As the lead plaintiff, your task in a legal proceeding for a class action claim is simple: to honestly and accurately answer the questions asked of you while under oath. Your attorney is the one who uses your testimony, along with other evidence gained from investigations and expert witness opinions, to build an argument for compensation.
Some class members are hesitant to take a lead plaintiff role because they fear that the company being sued—often, a massive and powerful company with plenty of resources and its own legal team—will try to turn the claim back on them.
It’s true that a defendant in a lawsuit can file what’s called a counterclaim, or a lawsuit against the plaintiff. Generally, though, seeking retribution against a plaintiff in the form of a counterclaim or countersuit requires the defendant to prove some sort of wrongdoing on the part of the plaintiff. In many class action matters pertaining to data breaches, it’s hard to imagine any such counterclaim that has even a hint of validity or viability. Even if your attorney fails to prove that the defendant was negligent in its handling of consumer data, you still aren’t to blame for the data breach.
Suppose, though, that a defendant company insists on attempting to seek retribution against the lead plaintiff. Even if a defendant company tried to file a counterclaim alleging that the lawsuit against it was “frivolous” and somehow constituted an “abuse of process,” the company would face a very uphill battle attempting to prove their argument. The class action lawsuit process is complex, and a claim that truly was frivolous” wouldn’t get very far in this process.
Further, you’re working with an experienced data breach attorney who knows what is required to demonstrate that a company’s data security measures are inadequate and how to undertake an investigation of a data breach. The evidence that your attorney compiles in the class action lawsuit is enough to demonstrate that the case you’re signing onto as lead plaintiff isn’t without merit or basis in law, as a case would have to be to constitute a frivolous claim. Generally, a company seeking to sue a lead plaintiff of a data breach class action for retribution would usually have no leg to stand on.
The trials you see in television courtroom dramas are, well, dramatized. A real-life trial is a lot less cinematic than fiction would have you believe, and the kind of emotional outburst and stunning reveals that usually occur in TV trials aren’t realistic in data breach class action claims. That’s not to say a trial might not be stressful in some ways, because taking the stand to answer questions under oath isn’t something you do on a daily basis. However, if it’s your dread of what a trial will look like that’s holding you back from accepting a role as a lead plaintiff, there’s a good chance that your fears are exaggerated (and heavily influenced by what television gets wrong).
There’s no guarantee that your class action lawsuit will even go to trial. Many lawsuits end in out-of-court settlements. If settlement negotiations don’t seem to be getting anywhere, parties often resolve a claim through mediation or arbitration. In many types of civil matters, an actual trial is a last resort, with the goal being to resolve the case before a trial takes place.
Lead plaintiffs are involved more extensively in a class action lawsuit than the other class members whose cases their claim represents. As such, they are sometimes eligible for more money than others in the class.
How much do lead plaintiffs get in a class action lawsuit? Extra compensation isn’t always awarded to a lead plaintiff, so there’s no guarantee how much extra you might get for filling this role or even whether you would receive extra pay at all. However, it does happen, especially if your losses were more extensive than others in the class and if you have to be involved in the legal matter in a more hands-on way. Sometimes the extra money a lead plaintiff receives is called an “incentive award.”
If it wasn’t for the lead plaintiff, no one else in the class would be able to get the money they deserve, either.
Getting compensation through the legal process costs money. Generally, if the value of a claim is too low to make the cost of pursuing the legal process worthwhile, the claim isn’t viable—not because the plaintiff doesn’t deserve compensation or the defendant wasn’t in the wrong, but strictly because of how the legal process works.
Suppose the damages a data breach victim suffers are in the range of a few hundred dollars. To most individuals, this would be a considerable amount of money—but it still may not be enough to sue over. In certain courts and areas, just the cost of filing a complaint may be more than an individual plaintiff’s claim is worth, not counting the costs of attorneys’ fees, investigating the data security event, or hiring expert witnesses. That’s why suing as an individual isn’t an option for most data breach victims.
By combining the cases of an entire class of plaintiffs together, attorneys are able to seek compensation even for their clients whose claims are comparably small or low-value enough that they would not be viable as individual legal matters. This is because the costs of proving liability and filing legal documents are shared across the class, not borne by one plaintiff. Being a lead plaintiff isn’t only about getting the money you personally deserve. It’s also about getting money for everyone else—in some cases, hundreds of thousands of people who suffered harm just like you did.
Again, on this subject of cost, neither the lead plaintiff nor any class members in a class action lawsuit have to pay out of pocket to pursue the claim.
It doesn’t matter how many hours your attorneys spend investigating the data breach, drafting legal documents, and putting together their arguments for compensation for you and the rest of the class members. You won’t be paying any hourly fees or regular retainers to keep your attorney working on your case. The way our data breach attorneys handle claims like yours is on a no-win, no-fee basis, where all attorneys’ fees and expenses of pursuing the claim come out of the settlement or jury award. This billing arrangement offers a few benefits:
If you fear that you don’t know enough about the legal process to be a lead plaintiff, we’ll let you in on a secret: you don’t need to have a lot of legal knowledge to take on this role.
It’s okay if legal jargon doesn’t mean a lot to you. Part of our job as your data breach attorneys will be to inform, educate, and advocate for you. We’ll explain things in simple terms that you don’t need a law school degree to understand. We’ll walk you through all the basics and everything you have to know for the lawsuit process. As you undertake the work of a lead plaintiff, you will also have an opportunity to learn a little more about your legal rights and the legal process in general. Some lead plaintiffs even find it interesting to be involved in litigation. Who knows, you might actually enjoy the experience of gaining firsthand knowledge of the legal system from the unique vantage point of a lead plaintiff.
One of the biggest reasons people take up class action claims is to address the bad behavior of the defendant. Even if the amount of compensation owed to the plaintiffs is a small amount of money per individual, it still adds up to a lot of money when multiplied across the entire class of plaintiffs. Having to pay you a few hundred dollars (or even a few thousand dollars) probably wouldn’t make enough of an impact on a major corporation to even consider changing its behavior going forward but having to pay a settlement that may reach into the millions of dollars range could accomplish just that.
Ultimately, the reason a company that was the target of a data breach would be facing lawsuits is generally because of its own actions that, as the lead plaintiff would claim in the lawsuit, made its systems vulnerable to cyberattacks and threats. A lawsuit isn’t an automatic consequence of a data breach. Lawsuits are typically filed when a data breach attorney’s investigation of the security incident uncovers sufficient evidence to make a reasonable argument that the company failed to take adequate data security measures and to protect the sensitive consumer information stored in its servers.
If no one holds companies accountable for mishandling or failing to protect consumer data, these companies may keep cutting corners (and costs) on data security by using outdated and inadequate systems to store and secure the data they possess. Standing up to a company as the lead plaintiff in a data breach class action lawsuit not only makes that company face the consequences of its failings but also serves as a warning to other companies that they can’t be careless with consumers’ personal data and then expect to get off scot-free when something happens to the information in their possession.
There are pros and cons to serving as the lead plaintiff in a data breach class action lawsuit, just as there are to anything in life. A person who cares about justice, fairness, and accountability and whose circumstances are representative of others in the class would likely make a good lead plaintiff (and reap the benefits of doing so).
If you think you might have the grounds for a data breach lawsuit or are interested in potentially representing a class as a lead plaintiff, taking the first step is easy. Just call (866) 778-5500 or fill out our secure online contact form today.