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Jasminka Kalajdzic sm

First class action clinic seeks to address ‘unmet need,’ director says

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 @ 2:24 PM | By Amanda Jerome

The University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law is now home to Canada’s only class action legal clinic. The clinic’s director and Windsor law professor, Jasminka Kalajdzic, said the goal is to “build public confidence in the class action regime and better fulfil the access to justice of class actions.”

The Class Action Clinic, launched on Oct. 1, was inspired by Kalajdzic’s own experience over the years “receiving phone calls and requests for help.”

“Everyone from lawyers, who maybe don’t have an expertise in class actions, to law students, to members of the public who hear about some research I’m doing and they call and are simply in need of either basic information about class actions and what their roles are in a case if they happen to be a class member, or more specific assistance with filling out a claim when there’s been a settlement, advice as to whether they should opt out or object to a settlement — all of these issues have come up over the years, literally dozens of times. So, it occurred to me some years ago that there’s an unmet need and law students would be very well placed, with the proper training, to provide that kind of assistance and general information,” she told The Lawyer’s Daily.

Jasminka Kalajdzic, University of Windsor

Kalajdzic said class actions include hundreds, if not thousands, of individual class members and it’s “impossible, in some cases, for class counsel to provide in-depth, individual advice to each class member.”

“Indeed, there are circumstances where a person hears about a class action, they think they might be a part of and don’t know who to turn to for advice. We hope to be that one stop shop for any and all questions related to class action litigation,” she said, adding that the clinic can assist if a person needs assistance filling out a claim form or requires basic information about a class action.

“If a person has some concerns about a proposed settlement, we can give them some information and advice so they can make a decision as to whether they want to object. So, in terms of direct client service, that’s the range of work that we can do in the immediate future and, down the road of course as we develop some expertise and resources, we could also assist in terms of representing class members in court,” she said, noting that the clinic has already been contacted by a non-governmental organization that “wants class action expertise assistance in an intervention they’re planning in an appeal.”

Kalajdzic said the clinic has also received a phone call from a law firm that is hoping to refer class members to them for assistance in filing claims, as well as contact from six individual potential class members looking for help.  

Even though the Class Action Clinic is in Ontario, it’s open to assist people from across Canada via phone, video conference and e-mail.

“The needs of class members are ubiquitous across the country,” explained Kalajdzic, noting “there are class actions in every province and in the Federal Court.”

“The needs that I’ve identified exist as much in British Columbia, or Nova Scotia, as they do in Ontario and because we’re the only clinic, certainly in Canada, if not the world, to provide this service to class members we wanted to be able to help as many people as possible,” she added, stressing that those in the Windsor area can visit the clinic in person, while others can visit the website for contact information.

The clinic will also be maintaining a database of class action information, which is being built by the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO). Kalajdzic noted that the LCO’s class action project aims to fill the “empirical informational gaps in Ontario.”

“We have a serious lack of information about class actions; both the types of cases, the number of cases, getting access to documents, and so on. So, the law commission is in the process of finishing its construction of its database that will contain some basic information about the 1,500 or so class actions that have been commenced in Ontario since 1993. Once the database has been built it will be transferred to the University of Windsor and the Class Action Clinic will then have responsibility for maintaining it, for keeping it up to date, to adding information about existing cases as information becomes available and also adding new cases as they are initiated. It will become, we hope, as comprehensive a database as exists anywhere in the country about Ontario class actions and will be open to the public,” she explained, noting that the database will also be accessible to lawyers, judges and academics for “empirical research purposes.”

Kalajdzic said class actions are a “device that the legislature created to enable large groups of people to get access to justice.” However, due to their size, “it can be hard for individuals to get legal advice and legal information.”

“We hope that we can address those needs,” she added.