Recent United States Supreme Court decisions making it more difficult to certify lawsuits as class actions have the potential to create a more business friendly climate in Oklahoma. In theory, a class action lawsuit saves resources because individuals who share the same legal claim can band together in one lawsuit. Unfortunately, in practice, the class action system has been prone to abuse by opportunistic class action attorneys who leave no stone unturned in their search for courts with a history of readily certifying cases for class action treatment. Some see the class action primarily as a weapon for coercing settlements from businesses that often cannot afford to the risk of defending a large class action in court. However, the plaintiffs in these cases often end up with comparatively little, while their attorneys walk away with the lion’s share of settlement money paid by the targeted business defendant. In fact, as many can attest, class members often will not go to the trouble of filling out paperwork to claim the trivial amounts they might receive from a class action settlement.
Over the last decade or so, there have been significant numbers of class actions filed in and certified by Oklahoma courts, thus creating an unfriendly climate for businesses. A common variety has been against companies who operate oil and gas wells in Oklahoma. The plaintiffs in those actions are typically mineral owners who have been recruited by class action attorneys. The plaintiffs allege that the oil and gas operator has underpaid their royalties. Often, Oklahoma courts have been quick to certify these types of cases as class actions. Given that oil and gas companies can choose where to invest their exploration budgets, such companies might think twice about investing in Oklahoma with its history of opportunistic class actions.
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