Not every class action settlement can use a postcard-sized claim form. Some cases require multi-page claim forms and a significant amount of supporting documentation in order for a claim to be successful. The risk with such cases is that class members may become frustrated and confused with the complexity of the case, leading to unexpected administration costs to assist claimants. It is important to design the claim form and the defect notice process carefully to avoid such circumstances.
Drafting class action claims forms
The claims process starts with the drafting of the claim form. While claim forms need to address all of the criteria in the settlement agreement, they must also keep the intended audience in mind – the claimants. The wording, structure, and flow of the form must all be considered, and the form itself should only ask for information that is absolutely necessary for a successful claim. Here are some tips for drafting an effective complex claim form:
- Incorporate plain language as much as possible such that a non-lawyer unfamiliar with the case can understand and complete the form. Claimants are not legal or subject matter experts on the product or service at issue in the lawsuit. For example, claimants in a case involving leaking windows may not be familiar with the industry terminology for the different components of the product, such as “glazing leg,” “double-pane” or “sash.”
- The instructions on the claim form itself should be direct and easy to read. The use of bullet points or step-by-step instructions will allow claimants to easily navigate the instructions, as opposed to lengthy narration.
- The use of online claim forms that intuitively walk the claimant through all of the steps can be preferable to paper claim submission. While such data capture websites can be more expensive, they come with significant cost savings during the claims process.
- In addition to the claim form, example photographs or other supporting documentation should be available in an appendix or on the settlement website.
Incomplete and defect claims processes
Another area requiring significant attention is the defect curing process. Inevitably in any class action settlement, complex or otherwise, class members will submit incomplete claims. It is important to design a defect claims process that is efficient and transparent. Curing defective claims is one of the greatest sources of frustration for claimants. They have taken time to fill out the multi-page claim form and submitted numerous supporting documents, and it can be exasperating when all that effort is met with a vague defect notice.
- Be clear in the language used in the defect letters. The letter should plainly identify to the reader what is missing from the claim and what is needed to cure the defects. If a claimant cannot decipher the letter, it will lead to more phone calls and emails, additional incomplete submissions, and more administration costs.
- When contemplating the defect process, decide what information on the claim form is critical to complete the claim and what information, if left off, does not really make a difference. Does it matter that the claimant dated the signature line when the claim was received prior to the submission deadline? It might seem obvious, but ensure defect letters are only issued to cure the truly critical elements of the claim.
Class action settlements with complex claims processes can be completed on-time and within budget so long as the right preparations are made before claims are filed. A reputable claims administrator such as Epiq can assist in crafting these processes thus saving administration costs down the line.
Steve Gassert is a project manager for Epiq’s class action, mass tort, and claims administration business unit. As a project manager, Mr. Gassert is responsible for overseeing all aspects of case administration, including counsel and court coordination, settlement or judgment implementation, noticing, claims processing, disbursement, budgeting, personnel management, and quality assurance. He specializes in building material class action and mass tort settlement administration cases and has managed the following settlements:
- In re MI Windows and Doors, Inc. Product Liability Litigation
- Trabakoolas v. Watts Water Technologies, Inc.
- In re Fresenius GranuFlo/NaturaLyte Dialysate Product Liability Litigation