TN Court of Appeals Declines to Certify Class Action Against Restaurant Where 105 People Got Sick
You often hear the phrase “class action” used in connection with personal injury lawsuits. So what exactly is a class action? Basically, it is when a group of plaintiffs want to pursue the same or similar legal claims against the same defendant. The plaintiffs themselves may not be directly related to one another. For example, if a group of patients were injured after using the same defective consumer product, they might have a class action against the manufacturer.
In a class action, one or more “lead” plaintiffs actually represent the entire class of injured persons. The trial court must also certify the case to proceed as a class action. This requires the judge to determine if the following four conditions are met:
- The class itself has so many members that it would be impractical for all of them to separately maintain a joint action against the defendant.
- Each of the class members have claims that raise common questions of fact or law.
- The specific claims of the lead plaintiffs are representative of the class as a whole.
- The lead plaintiffs can show they will fairly and adequately represent the legal interests of all class members.
Convincing a judge to certify a class action is no easy matter. Many cases that would seem like obvious candidates for class certification fail to meet the standards articulated above. To take a recent example, the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial judge’s decision not to certify a proposed class action against a restaurant accused of poisoning its patrons.
In August 2018, a single plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the restaurant and its owners. The plaintiff said she became ill after eating at the restaurant. She alleged this illness could be traced to the restaurant’s use of a “private well,” as opposed to a municipal water source. The plaintiff later moved to certify a class of approximately 102 patrons who also became ill after eating at the defendants’ restaurant.
So why did the court decline to certify a class action? The trial judge agreed the lead plaintiff met the first condition–the proposed class had sufficient members or “numerosity” to justify a potential class action. But the proposed class did not, in the eyes of the trial judge or the appellate court, meet the other three requirements.
For example, the Court of Appeals noted the proposed class members did not have “common” claims of fact. There was no dispute that 105 people got sick from eating at the restaurant. Yet public health authorities concluded some of these people got sick from exposure to E. coli via the well water, while others fell ill due to norovirus, which is spread through person-to-person contact. Since it was “inconclusive” whether or not all of the class members’ illnesses sprung from the same source, the Court of Appeals said their cases did not share the necessary common question of fact.
Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Even when a court declines to certify a class action, that does not prohibit individual victims from continuing to pursue an individual claim against a negligent defendant. If you have been injured due to someone else’s actions and want to learn more about all of your options from a qualified Knoxville personal injury attorney, contact Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation.