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What is a Lead Plaintiff?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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A lead plaintiff is a person involved in a class action lawsuit that is responsible for a number of different tasks within the confines of the suit and is chosen as a representative of the rest of the class in the lawsuit. This person, or small group of people, will often be responsible for finding legal representation for the suit, consulting and working on the case, and discussing and approving a settlement. A lead plaintiff is expected to act as a representative for the entire class involved with the lawsuit and should be able to make educated decisions that can impact many other people.

In a class action lawsuit, a lead plaintiff acts as a figurehead for all of the other plaintiffs and is an important figure during the proceedings of the suit. A class action lawsuit is a civil suit in which a large group of people has been negatively impacted by something and individual lawsuits would be impossible or impractical. All of those people involved then make up the class in the lawsuit, and the lead plaintiff is chosen by a court when a suit is certified as a class action to act on behalf of the other plaintiffs.

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There are a number of responsibilities that the lead plaintiff has, and so it is very important that a suitable representative for the plaintiffs is chosen. One of the first things he or she will usually do is choose and hire a lawyer to represent the class in a lawsuit. This typically does not incur financial risk for the plaintiff as a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in a class action suit will usually work on contingency, paying for his or her own expenses and then receiving compensation only if the class wins the suit. Similarly, any fees the lead plaintiff incurs are typically reimbursed if the class wins, along with a share of damages awarded to the class.

A lead plaintiff will also typically be closely involved in the case and will often consult with the lawyers, give testimony, and work directly on the suit. The awarding of damages can often occur in the form of a settlement, and the lead plaintiff is responsible for representing the rest of the plaintiffs during settlement discussions. Only he or she can approve or reject a settlement, and once a settlement is reached all other plaintiffs are automatically awarded a share of the damages paid. The other plaintiffs can opt out of the settlement and pursue action in other ways, but they cannot negotiate or otherwise impact the settlement.

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