Mark Raffman, partner in Goodwin Procter's Business Litigation Practice
Under Federal and state law, it is possible to address multiple complaints about the safety and efficacy of a product in a single class action lawsuit. When courts determine that plaintiffs' claims are sufficiently similar to move ahead in a single class action proceeding, the result can expose manufacturers to enormous financial risk.
However, a recent Supreme Court case exposes new ways to prevent plaintiffs from rolling their cases into a single, high-cost suit, and gives manufacturers new tools to fight these motions at the earliest stage of trial.
Requirements for a Class Action Lawsuit
For a court to certify a class action lawsuit, federal rules require the plaintiff to show that questions of law or fact common to the claims of all class members predominate over questions affecting individual claims. Identifying key similarities among all plaintiffs is often critical to whether a court permits a case to proceed as a class action.
Historically, manufacturers of building products have been exposed to class actions. Courts have often glossed over individual differences in the application of building manufacturers' products, deeming them similar simply because they were incorporated into structures and not used on their own.
Broad class actions alleging universal product failure, or alleging actual or potential adverse health effects stemming from building products are frequently filed, and some have been permitted to proceed, often overlooking material differences from application to application.