What is a “group” in the meaning of the Act?

“A group” is a group of persons who have decided to pursue their claims jointly in the form of group proceedings and who filed a declaration on joining the group and expressed their consent for bringing of the action by a specified person who shall act in the capacity of the group representative (see: Who is a group representative?). If the representative of the group is the Financial Ombudsman, the group is made up of persons who have submitted statements on joining the group (no requirement to consent to the representative of the group).

At the beginning, the group consists of persons who submitted such a declaration at the time of bringing of the action and to whose benefit the representative has filed the action. Later the group may be extended by other persons who submit a declaration on joining the group at the second stage of the procedure.

For instance, a group may be established by consumers injured by a single entrepreneur using the so-called abusive clauses, or by the persons who were injured in the same event (e.g. road traffic accident, other unlawful activity), or by persons suffering damages caused by a hazardous product.

Polish group proceedings are based on the so-called opt–in model of participation, which requires the members of the group to expressly indicate their will to participate in group proceedings (by filing of the so-called declaration on joining the group). This is an opposite system to the one which is adopted by some countries following the opt–out model applied in the US, according to which an action covers all persons who qualify to be group members (who belong to the defined class) unless those persons expressly indicate their will not to participate in group proceedings.

In the Polish procedure, the commencement of group proceedings does not exclude the separate, individual pursuit of claims in court by persons who have not joined the group or who have definitely withdrawn (left) from the group. This is because a final and valid judgment bears effects exclusively towards all group members (i.e. persons covered by the court’s decision approving the composition of the group).

Internal relations between persons who establish or intend to establish a group are not regulated by law . Following a general rule of freedom of contracting, these persons can decide the shape of their mutual relations themselves and, in particular, the manner of collecting and covering the costs of group proceedings (see: What are the costs of participation in the group proceedings?). To secure interest of group members and set forth the rules of participation in the group, it is advisable to conclude a written agreement between the group members and the group representative specifying the principles of cooperation in relation to the group proceedings (the so-called “internal agreement”).