Every once in a while, you may find a notice in your mailbox about a business you’ve gone to, or an insurance company you’ve used, only to discover they’re involved in a class action lawsuit. These law suits are an action that takes place when a plaintiff or defendant represents a group of people with the same interest. For instance, class action law suits have been filed and decided against tobacco firms and the effects smoking has on their customers, and against the manufacturers of Agent Orange after Vietnam vets were exposed to this herbicide. These cases were settled in 1997 and 1984, respectively. More class action lawsuits are filed each day, and notices are sent to people who may be part of the representative group. But what happens when people don’t respond to these notices? What happens if a person doesn’t claim the class action settlement money?
Class action lawsuits are an increasing part of funds which go unclaimed. Every year there will be companies in the hundreds that take part in class action suits. You’ll find them falling into several categories, such as consumer protection, which deals with fraudulent marketing; public health, which concerns anything that endangers a person’s health, such as tobacco. The class action lawsuit may deal with anything from a business’s unfair practice to fixing prices to problems created by pollution and discrimination. While the money involved is great (five billion in settlements in 2006, for example), more than half of those people entitled to payment do not file for the claim. Many people may overlook the notices in newspaper classified ads; they might have moved and never received the form to file. Whatever the reason, if the money remains unclaimed, you may still have access to it.
For example, if you used a defective product years ago, or you’ve sold stock, a class member may still be able to receive cash or credit, even shares or distributions from hundreds of major companies, such as AT&T, Coca Cola, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, and so on. However, you must file a claim to receive that share. If the lawsuit was filed in Federal court, as many of them are, the money owed in a settlement won’t be listed in a State Unclaimed Property Division search and there’s a time limit fixed for when the settlement must be claimed or disappear. If you suspect you have unclaimed monies owed you, you may have to pay a small fee with a company that specializes in searches for unclaimed assets to find out if you’re eligible.