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Oregon Lawyers Divided Over Proposed Changes To Class Action Payments

OPB | Feb. 28, 2014 12:30 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 28, 2014 4:17 p.m.

Tim Pierce via Flickr, Creative Commons

Democratic lawmakers want to redirect unclaimed money from class action lawsuits to help fund legal aid for people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer.

Class action lawsuits involve large groups of people who all claim to have been wronged by the same defendant — usually a corporation or other large institution. If the plaintiffs win their case, payments are made to each individual in the “class,” and right now, the defendant in a class action case can keep any money not claimed by those individuals.

A bill currently working its way through the legislature would change that. Instead of remaining with the defendant,  unclaimed damages from class action cases would go to Legal Aid Services of Oregon, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to low-income Oregonians in civil cases. (Unlike criminal cases, civil cases do not require a lawyer be provided to someone who can’t afford one.)

Oregon lawyers are deeply divided over this issue. District attorneys, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and former Governor Ted Kulongoski are in favor of the bill, while some business groups and former Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer — along with other lawyers who represent corporations — oppose the bill.

Have you ever been a part of a class action lawsuit? Where do you stand on this bill?

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