By: Charles Bowen
Not long ago you probably would have to talk with several dozen people before you’d find anyone who had gone to court over a dispute. Nowadays, “talk to my lawyer” slips neatly into polite conversation, right after “pass the gravy.” A cynic might say that these days everyone is just sitting around waiting to find someone to sue. On the other hand, maybe average citizens are just more likely to stand up for themselves than they were in what we remember as the less litigious days of our childhood.
From a journalistic perspective, the most newsworthy litigation is often the class action suit. In such cases brought by one party on behalf of a group of individuals who all have the same grievance, defendants usually are companies or organizations. Common class actions involve products that have injured many people or groups that have suffered discrimination at the hands of specific organizations.
Traditionally, the problem for lawyers trying to put together such cases has been locating plaintiffs for the class who could be scattered all over the country. Enter the Internet. A site called Big Class Action, provided as a free service by Online Legal Services Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, provides an alphabetical and searchable database of the latest class-action proposals and even ways for visitors to join them.
To check it out, visit the site at http://www.bigclassaction.com, where the large central portion of the introductory screen provides links to more than two dozen broad categories, ranging from automotive, civil rights and communications/media to insurance and the Internet to phamaceuticals, securities, and travel. Click on any category to get a summary of major settlements in that area, as well as pending cases, investigations, and calls for plaintiffs in cases being filed.
The site also provides for easy searching. Click on the “Search” link in the left column of any of the site’s pages. In the resulting screen, enter a word or phrase. Associated drop-down boxes enable you to use logical operators AND or OR and to specify whether or not you want case sensitivity. You also can examine the site’s listing of class action suits in alphabetical order. Click on the “Alphabetical List” link at the right of any page in the site. The resulting screen lists hundreds of potential and pending cases with brief descriptions and hyperlinks to the details.
Other considerations for using the Big Class Action database in your writing and editing:
1. Need more information about class action cases in general? Click on the site’s “Frequently Asked Questions” link for discussion on topics such as what factors must be present to start a suit, who pays the lawyers, and how to know when a complaint is too small for a class action.
2. If you write about the site in your news columns, you might want to alert readers that they can sign up for e-mail alerts on new class action cases. At the bottom of the introductory page, the site prompts you for an e-mail address. Those on the list automatically receive electronic notification of new suits, settlements, and verdicts.
3. The site also collects press releases from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom regarding class actions. Click on the link to “Class Action Press Releases” on the lower right side of the introductory page to reach the resources.