The Law: One for All

Most U.S. citizens never get directly involved in a law suit other than an auto accident or divorce case. But without their knowledge, a great many Americans are now becoming silent plaintiffs in a powerful and increasingly common type of litigation, the "class action," in which one or more individuals speak for a large group that has suffered similar harm or faces a mutual threat.

The targets for class actions seem to be almost limitless. Current suits are challenging hamburger labeling practices, allegedly usurious credit-card finance charges and preferential air fares for youths. Last...

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