Should You Join a Class Action Lawsuit for an Injury or Pursue Separate Litigation?

It seems like there's always a new class action lawsuit in the news these days. After the death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, a class action lawsuit solidified against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the maker of the car that caused his death. The new Samsung Galaxy S7s—and their supposedly safe replacements—are likely to see a class action lawsuit as well. However, is joining a class action lawsuit really to your advantage? Should you opt out? This is what you should know when making your decision.

You have a choice to opt out.

Class action suits are formed because it's generally cheaper for a lot of claimants and their attorneys to work together and share information as they press similar lawsuits. There are usually a few "named" members of the class—individual victims who started the process, and there are usually several large firms that handle the class action suit.

You may know that you're interested in filing as part of the class as soon as you hear about it on the news, or you may not know you're even potentially part of the class until you get a postcard in the mail.

Everyone has a right to decide if they are going to opt in to the class, which makes them bound to the decision that the court or arbitrator makes. Most people do opt in—usually because they either don't have anything much invested in the process, or they think that opting out cuts them out entirely.

Only the named members and the attorneys usually receive large settlements.

With the exception of some major medical class action suits, like the Zyprexa settlement, where many people suffered serious physical injuries, the majority of any settlement will go to the named members who started to the suit and the attorneys who did the work developing the suit and negotiating the payment agreements. Most members of class action lawsuits receive relatively low settlements.

For example, the famous Red Bull "truth in advertising" class action settlement was worth a total of $13 million dollars—which worked out to be about $10 to every person who'd bought a Red Bull since 2012. In addition, the amount that you think you are likely to receive could drop as additional members of the class step forward and join.

The size of your potential claim makes a difference.

If, for example, you are someone who bought one of the new Samsung phones with the batteries that tend to explode, but you sent it back and purchased a different phone, you probably have a fairly low-value claim. You weren't injured, so your claim is essentially for the price of the faulty product and the inconvenience you suffered as well as Samsung's breach of duty to put out a safe product.

On the other hand, if you were one of the victims who suffered burns or had their bedroom catch on fire because of the phone, you likely have a high-value claim. You would be eligible for your medical bills, your pain and suffering, and any property damage you suffered. You could also ask for punitive damages to punish the company for putting out a product that was hastily made and clearly unsafe.

In those situations, you may want to seek the advice of a personal injury attorney who is willing to consider taking your claim if you opt out of the class. Your own personal injury claim may be worth the inconvenience of pursuing separate litigation.