Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014 ERISA settlements top $1.3 billion

The largest class-action settlements in claims brought under the Employee Income Retirement Security Act topped $1.3 billion in 2014, almost 10 times the sum of the biggest settlements from the previous year.

No other area of employment workplace law saw that kind of explosive growth last year. In fact, settlement numbers in other areas of workplace class-action claims were down, according to the 2015 Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, published by Seyfarth Shaw, a Chicago-based law firm.

The settlement figures for the biggest ERISA cases were higher in 2014 than at any other time in recent history. In 2011, sponsors settled nearly $900 million in the largest cases, the only time since 2009 when the figures were remotely close to last year’s record numbers.

Settlement figures for other areas of labor law paled in comparison: $215 million was settled in wage and hour class-actions, and about $228 million in employee discrimination cases.

By the close of 2014, ERISA lawsuits totaled 7,163, down marginally from 2013. Several “mega-settlements” pushed the ERISA tab for the 10 largest settlements beyond the billion-dollar mark. Among them: 

In August 2014, a $480 million settlement was reached in Meyers vs. Daimier Trucks North America LLC, in a class-action filed by retired UAW workers alleging the truck manufacturer illegally cut benefits. 

The next month, a $415 million settlement was approved in Healthcare Strategies Inc. vs. ING Life Insurance & Annuity Co. 

And in December, a tentative $140 million settlement was reached in Haddock vs. Nationwide after 13 years of litigation. It’s believed to be the largest ever in a service-provider revenue-sharing case. 

A couple of quick conclusions:

  • The amounts here are staggering, especially from the perspective of class action attorneys.  Surely, this information will draw more attorneys into the fray.
  • Based on these figures, litigation on ERISA cases seemingly is poised to increase in both quantity and voracity.
  • As a result, one would naturally expect the number of players in the ERISA space to decrease due to the risks, with a natural result being those firms doing the right thing for their clients and those firms with a truly dominant position in the space where litigation can be fought or absorbed.
-Jason Grantz