Securities Class Action Settlements on the Up

Both the number and value of securities class action settlements increased in 2009 and as earlier predicted the upward trend is likely to continue in the year ahead as ongoing cases related to the financial crisis get resolved. An annual report by Cornerstone Research found that the value of cases settled in 2009 rose to $3.8 billion, an increase of more than 35 percent on 2008, while 103 settlements were approved in 2009, compared with 97 in 2008. Professor Joseph Grundfest, director of the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse observed: “If a lawsuit is prosecuted by a large public pension fund, involves a parallel SEC proceeding, and alleges accounting violations, then defendants can expect to pay higher amounts.† He went on to note that because securities fraud litigation typically settles three to five years after the first complaint is filed, this year’s settlement activity reflects lawsuits brought roughly between 2004 and 2006. So while the largest industry concentration among 2009 settled cases was in the financial sector, these were primarily for case filings with class periods ending prior to 2008, i.e. credit crisis-related cases, for the most part, are yet to be resolved. A couple of other takeaways from the report: the average settlement value increased to $37 million in 2009 from $28 million for settlements in 2008; the median settlement in 2009 was $8 million, unchanged from 2008; and estimated plaintiff-style damages for all cases settled in 2009 averaged $2.7 billion, a 35 percent increase (inflation-adjusted) over the average for 2008 settlements. Check out the D&O Diary for further analysis of the Cornerstone report.

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