Corporate liability carriers in the future may have to defend against more class actions, but they will likely see more of them dismissed, judging by a new study.
According to a report by researchers at NERA Consulting, companies face an increased likelihood of being named as defendants in a class action suit, with 10 percent probability of at least one shareholder class action lawsuit over a five-year period based on the filing rate for 2003-2005.
On the positive side for corporations, 40.3 percent of the cases filed against companies between 1998 and 2003 ended in dismissals.
NERA senior consultant Dr. Ronald I. Miller and vice presidents Todd Foster and Dr. Elaine Buckberg, who wrote the report, cautioned that this figure may be “slightly overstated” as it includes those cases dismissed without prejudice that could be refiled.
However, the dismissal figure is a sharp change from the period between 1991 and 1995 when “dismissals accounted for only 19.4 percent of dispositions for cases filed,” the authors said in the report.
Additionally, the authors noted, “There is good reason to expect that, apart from the biggest of the mega-settlements, average settlements will not rise further over the next two or three years and, instead, could even fall.”
The authors said that even as a few record-breaking settlements continue to make headlines the situation for the rest of the class action defendant population appears to be stabilizing.
The study, titled “Recent Trends in Shareholder Class Action Litigation: Beyond the Mega-Settlements, is Stabilization Ahead?” reported that the top 10 list of most expensive class action settlements has changed dramatically since the beginning of 2005.
“In 2005 and the first two months of 2006, the list of the 10 largest shareholder class action settlements was almost completely rewritten,” the authors wrote.
“Seven slots on the list are now filled by 2005 and 2006 settlements. As of 2004, Cendant was the only settlement larger than one billion dollars. Now there are six.”
The average settlement also increased, from $23.7 million in 2002 to $24.3 million in 2005 if the WorldCom settlement is excluded. Including WorldCom would increase the 2005 average to almost $71 million.
Still, the authors said recent massive class action settlements reflect the increased investor losses rather than a more difficult legal environment, and the worst may be over as the stock bubble of the early 21st century fades into the past.
“Many of the largest suits in this recent period have class periods ending during the collapse of the stock market bubble in 2000-2002,” the authors said. “The large market losses that came with the end of this bubble have led to large settlements.”