Results in so-called no-injury class actions

A recent Public Citizen report maintains that the idea of the "no-injury" class action is a fiction. After all, wrongful corporate conduct may be harmful to consumers, and worthy of deterrence, even when it is difficult for many individuals to quantify the particular harms to them.

Many state and federal consumer-protection laws authorize consumers to sue for violations of those laws and to be compensated with statutory (not actual) damages only. Often, those suits are brought as class actions in which everyone in the proposed class is seeking only statutory (not actual) damages.

Law professor Joanna Shepherd has written about results in those kinds of cases in An Empirical Survey of No-Injury Class Actions. Here is the abstract:

This report empirically examines the allocation of settlements and awards in no-injury class actions among plaintiffs, attorneys, and cy pres funds. The results are based on my study of 432 no-injury class action settlements and trial awards from 2005-2015. The study finds that, on average, 60 percent of the total monetary award paid by the defendants was allocated to the plaintiffs’ class and 37.9 percent was allocated to attorneys’ fees. However, because many settlements disperse the unclaimed portion of the settlement fund to a cy pres fund, the funds available to class members at the time of settlement may significantly overstate the actual amount class members ultimately receive. Although 60 percent of the total monetary award may be available to class members, in reality, they typically receive less than 9 percent of the total. In comparison, class counsel receives an average of 37.9 percent of available funds, over 4 times the funds typically distributed to the class. A result in which plaintiffs recover less than 10 percent of the award, with the rest going to lawyers or unrelated groups, clearly does not achieve the compensatory goals of class actions. Instead, the costs of no-injury class actions are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, lower product quality, and reduced innovation.

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