Claimants Banding Together: Is There Always Strength in Numbers?

joined hands

By Leonard Loh

Key Takeaway: While there are obvious advantages for potential claimants to band together, there are issues which must be fully considered in order for all potential claimants to make a considered decision. Independent legal advice is recommended, prudent and necessary before committing to a group litigation.

Potential claimants are now, more often and more effectively, harnessing the power of messaging apps, internet forums and social media to seek out others who have suffered similar plights under the hands of the same defendant(s), to organise themselves and to launch actions. However, it is important to ask: is there always strength in numbers?

In the Singapore litigation context, there are a few ways in which potential claimants may band together. First, each claimant could commence a separate action and seek to consolidate the actions together, on the basis that there is some common question of law in the actions, the reliefs claimed in the actions concern or arise out of the same factual situation, or it is appropriate to do so: Order 9 Rule 11 of the Rules of Court 2021 (“ROC 2021”). Second, the claimants could, on the basis that they have a common interest, appoint a representative to represent all of them in the action: Order 4 Rule 6(2) of ROC 2021. Third, the claimants could incorporate a special purpose vehicle (“SPV”), assign their causes of action to the said SPV and use the SPV to commence proceedings: POA Recovery Pte Ltd v Yau Kwok Seng and others and another appeal [2022] 1 SLR 1165; [2022] SGHC(A) 2.

It is understandable why banding together would be attractive. Litigation is costs-consuming and there are economies of scale to be enjoyed if a large group of claimants seeking relief from the same or similar set of facts. Some claimants may wish to seek relief and have their day in court, but are more than willing to have a representative make the numerous but sometimes mundane decisions regarding the litigation. Some potential claimants may be unsure if they should commence proceedings in the first place, and would be happy to pay a considerably smaller fee to obtain slightly more specific advice on their situation.

Notwithstanding, there are various pitfalls which may not be immediately apparent, and we hope to flesh out a couple of important ones in this article.

1. Extent of similarity in the facts

Even though the claimants are seeking relief from the same set of facts and from the same defendant(s), that does not mean that the circumstances giving rise to the cause of action or relief are exactly the same. A service provider which has failed to meet its contractual duties may have caused different types of damage to different claimants. Investors who feel that they have been misled by a fund manager may have received different actionable representations from the manager, or have suffered different kinds of losses.

It is important for potential claimants to recognise the differences in their situations and ask themselves: will my interests be taken care of if I band myself with other claimants which are in a slightly different situation from me? With the difference in facts, there will be differences in chances of success, differences in litigation costs, differences in chances of receiving and/or reaching a settlement and differences in thoughts about what represents a suitable or reasonable settlement sum. For example, if a claimant with a higher chance of success bands together with other claimants with a lower chance of success, that claimant may, depending on the mechanism adopted and the agreement between claimants, be prevented from accepting a settlement which he/she may find attractive.

It must be borne in mind that there is no obligation on the party of the defendant(s) to treat all claimants equally, especially if there are observable differences that could warrant differential treatment.

2. How costs are to be shared

Many claimants band together with the hope that they would have a lower outlay in terms of legal costs. However, each claimant must consider whether the quantum to be charged is fair and reasonable. It may not necessarily be fair to charge each claimant the same share of the legal costs: in such a situation, a claimant with a larger claim may be more motivated to reject a settlement offer, given that if the matters moves to trial, he would be pay the same sum as the rest but enjoy a bigger payout if he is successful. It may however not be fair to charge each claimant based on the size of the claim: the quantum of the claim may sometimes have nothing to do with the complexity of the claim or the chances of success. Further, if there is a difference in facts, they may be the situation where some claims are successful while some claims are not. In such a situation, how would the costs consequences be shared?

3. Conflicts and how they are to be managed

A legal practitioner owes duties of loyalty and confidentiality to each client, and must act prudently to avoid any compromise of the lawyer-client relationship by reason of a conflict, or potential conflict, between the interests of two or more clients of the legal practitioner: Rule 20(1)(a) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rule 2015 (“LPPCR”).

When a single set of lawyers act for multiple clients, there is always a potential risk of conflict. Indeed, Rule 20(3)(a)(i) of the LPPCR requires lawyers to explain to any potential client, how the interests of all or any of the relevant parties may diverge, how the legal practitioner or law practice may be prevented from disclosing to a relevant party information obtained from another relevant party, despite the relevance of the information to the matter and how the legal practitioner may be prevented from giving to a relevant party any advice that is prejudicial to another relevant party. Rule 20(3)(a)(ii) of the LPPCR also requires the legal practitioner or law practice to inform that relevant party that the legal practitioner or law practice must cease to act in the matter or transaction if, in the course of the retainer, the legal practitioner or law practice has difficulty in advising on and dealing with the relevant parties’ divergent interests competently, evenly and consistently. To this end, it is usual for law firms, when taking on multiple clients, to require such clients to agree to waivers of conflicts and the right for the law firm to discharge themselves in a conflict situation.

Potential claimants must ask how the legal practitioner and law practice intend to manage potential issues of conflict. It is important to be fully satisfied with that answer since, in the situation where a legal practitioner and law practice is faced with an allegation of conflict and/or is forced to discharge, the claimants may be stuck with having to switch representation and, in that situation, incur more costs than expected.

4. Proposed method to commence proceedings and manner of taking instructions

As mentioned above, there are many ways in which proceedings can be commenced by multiple potential claimants. Depending on the method by which proceedings are commenced, the level of control each person has over the litigation will vary. For example, it would be considerably easier for a claimant who has commenced his/her own action to agree to a discrete settlement of his/her claim, as compared to a potential claimant who has assigned his/her cause of action to the SPV. Aside from the method by which proceedings are commenced, the letters of engagement may allow legal practitioners to regard instructions received from one or more person to bind the group; potential claimants must thus scrutinise and read the letters of engagement carefully, to fully understand their rights and obligations.

5. Exit strategy

Alternative dispute resolution is a common affair in Singapore litigation, and one could expect to receive offers to settle before and during the course of a litigation. However, even people in the exact same situation may have wildly varying views about whether a settlement offer is fair, reasonable and acceptable. Some may, in view of the vicissitudes in life, wish to exit the litigation midway. Depending on the agreement between parties and the manner in which the litigation is commenced, exiting may be a costly or otherwise impossible affair.


It is not the purpose of this article to dissuade anyone from banding together to commence litigation. The benefits of doing so are clear. However, there are pitfalls that may not be apparent but must be considered. Failure to do so would give rise to a difference between expectation and the realities of litigation, which is that it is long, hard and uncertain. It is open for parties unsure about their situation to seek independent legal advice, especially from legal practitioners and law practices which have experience in dealing with multi-party representation.

For More Information

If you have any questions about this article, please contact Duane Morris & Selvam Associate Director Leonard Loh if you would like to discuss this update.

About Selvam LLC

On 1 January 2011, Selvam LLC entered into a joint law venture with Philadelphia-based United States law firm Duane Morris LLP. The affiliation, formally known in Singapore as an Enhanced Joint Law Venture (JLV), was the first U.S.-Singapore joint venture to be approved by Singapore as part of the enhanced liberalisation of its legal services market in 2008. The joint venture, known as Duane Morris & Selvam LLP, enables Duane Morris to strengthen its capabilities, access and presence in Asia through Selvam LLC’s top-ranked Singapore corporate and disputes practices, and likewise helps Selvam to leverage the support of Duane Morris’ U.S. and other international offices.

In addition, the partnership enables Selvam to draw upon the JLV in terms of the technology, IT infrastructure, training and capabilities of a global law firm. Together, the firm now has over 900 lawyers across 30 offices including five offices in Asia: Singapore, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai and Yangon. Selvam LLC undertakes all Singapore law aspects of the JLV, including litigation, employment, real estate and family law matters. Due to the ever-increasing volume of cross-border transactions, our local law capability greatly enhances the scope of legal services we are able to offer our clients.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm’s full disclaimer.

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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