As other commentators previously have noted (refer here), the pace of securities lawsuit filings increased significantly in 2008 compared to recent years. According to my tally, there were 224 new securities lawsuits filed in 2008. The 2008 total represents a 30% increase over the 172 securities lawsuits filed in 2007, and an 88% increase over the 119 securities lawsuits filed in 2006.
The 2008 filing total also represents the highest annual filing total since 2004. All signs seem to indicate that the heightened filing levels will continue into 2009.
My 2008 securities lawsuit filing tally reflects a lower number than the figures NERA Economic Consulting recently published (refer here), and in that regard I urge readers to refer to my comments below about the particular complications associated with "counting" securities lawsuits in 2008.
The most significant factor in this year’s heightened securities litigation filing activity was the number of subprime and credit crisis-related securities lawsuit filings. Of the 224 new securities cases filed in 2008, 101 were subprime or credit crisis-related. As reflected on my running tally of subprime and credit crisis-related securities lawsuits, which can be accessed here, there have been 141 total of these cases filed overall during 2007 and 2008 combined.
One factor that increased the number of subprime-related lawsuit filings in 2008 was the influx of auction rate securities lawsuit filings (about which refer here). There were 21 of these auction rate securities lawsuits filed in 2008, largely in the first half of the year.
Another factor that increased the 2008 filings was the influx of Madoff-related litigation during December 2008. My running tally of the Madoff lawsuits can be found here. Investors have initiated Madoff-related securities class action lawsuits against at least seven distinct investment groups, and every sign is that this litigation will continue to flood in during the early weeks and months of 2009.
2008 Filings by SIC Code
The predominance of the subprime and credit crisis-related litigation during 2008 is borne out in the profile of the companies that were sued in securities lawsuits during the year. Though the companies targeted represent over 90 different Standard Industrial Classifications (SIC) Codes, fully 99 of the lawsuits hit companies with SIC Codes in the 6000 series (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), including 19 in SIC Code 6021 (National Commercial Banks) and 20 in SIC Code 6211 (Security Brokers and Dealers).
There were a number of securities lawsuit defendants entities in 2008 that have no SIC Code designated. These defendants include mutual funds, private investment firms and other entities. By my count, there were as many as 23 new lawsuits filed in 2008 against entities that lack an SIC designation. In most cases, these entities are involved in investment or financial services-related businesses, which even further underscores the fact that much of the securities litigation activity in 2008 was concentrated in the financial sector.
But while securities suits against companies in the financial sector were a predominant factor in the 2008 securities lawsuits filings, there were other SIC Code categories that also saw significant litigation activity, including SIC Code 3674 (Semiconductors) which also saw ten filings; SIC Code 2834 (Pharmaceutical Preparations) which saw nine lawsuit filings; and SIC Code 3845 (Electromedical and Electrotherapeutic Apparatus) which had five.
In addition, while the credit crisis lawsuits hit the financial sector hard, the credit crisis litigation wave spread outside the financial sector as the year progressed and the financial turmoil spread. As I noted here, and as a result of the dramatic events in the financial markets during September and October 2008, a number of companies outside the financial sector were hit with credit crisis-related lawsuits, particularly those with exposure to Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or those that made wrong-way bets on currencies or commodities.
State and Court Distribution of Filings and Defendants
The concentration of cases in the financial sector also affected the geographic distribution of the 2008 case filings. Though securities lawsuits were filed in 48 different federal district courts (as well as several state courts), 97 of the 224 securities filings in 2008 were filed in the Southern District of New York. The federal district with the second highest number of new lawsuit filings was the Northern District of California, where 12 new securities lawsuits were filed. Other districts with a significant number of filings include the District of Massachusetts (10), and the Central District of California (9).
Another factor contributing to the significant number of filings in the Southern District of New York was the number of lawsuits filed there against foreign-domiciled companies. Overall, there were 34 foreign companies sued in securities lawsuits in 2008, all but five of which were initiated in the Southern District of New York. The 34 foreign companies sued represented 17 different countries, with the largest number from Canada (8), China (5) and Switzerland (4).
The domestic U.S. companies hit with securities lawsuits were based in 31 different states, and the District of Columbia. The state with the largest number of new securities lawsuits was New York (42), followed by California (23), Massachusetts (13) and Ohio (10).
The Pace of Filings and Likely Future Trends
The pace of new lawsuit filings increased during the year, with 105 during the first half and 119 in the second half. The fact that the fourth quarter, with 67 new filings, was the most active quarter during the year, together with the fact that there were a significant number of filings (30) in December (typically a quiet month for securities lawsuit filings), suggests that the heightened level of securities filings will continue into 2009. Indeed, the filings in the fourth quarter of 2008 and during December 2008 represent, respectively, the highest quarterly and monthly totals in more than five years.
My conclusion that the increased securities litigation activity levels will continue in 2009 is reinforced by the likelihood that the credit crisis litigation wave will continue to spread outside the financial sector in 2009.
Some Comments about "Counting": One reason for the wide disparity in the various published versions of the 2008 securities lawsuit filings is that the seemingly simple task of counting lawsuits was particularly complicated during 2008.
One complication is that some companies were sued multiple different times by different sets of claimants, on different legal theories, or with respect to different sets of circumstances. For example, one historically unusual phenomenon that recurred during 2008 was the initiation of new securities lawsuits initiated by preferred shareholders or subordinate securities holders (about which refer here). The multiplication of lawsuits involving different claimants or different legal theories but related defendants raised a continuing series of questions whether or not a new action does or does not represent a separate lawsuit that should be separately counted.
This question whether or not a separate complaint represents a new lawsuit was particularly complicated with respect to the Madoff-related litigation that flooded in during the final weeks of December. As reflected in my running tally of these lawsuits, which can be accessed here, there have already been multiple lawsuits against related Madoff-feeder funds. Reasonable minds might well differ as to whether or not a particular complaint represents an entirely new lawsuit or simply a related or duplicate complaint.
Another attribute of this multiplicity of lawsuit filings is that the number of new lawsuits filed may be significantly different than the number of companies sued, as some companies were sued multiple times in multiple different lawsuits. As a result, there may be a certain amount of double counting associated with some of the lawsuit tallies or some of the analysis of lawsuit filings.
Yet another factor complicating the counting is that during 2008 plaintiffs initiated a number of securities class action lawsuits in state court (about which I previously commented here). In many instances these lawsuits are difficult simply to find. The inclusion of these cases, and the uncertainty around their numbers, could significantly affect the overall lawsuit tally.
As has been increasingly the case in recent years, it has become progressively more difficult simply to maintain definitional clarity about what exactly is being counted. To clarify what I have been tracking, I try to count class action lawsuits that allege violations of the federal securities laws. That said, I have excluded certain lawsuits that other reasonable minds might include. For example, I generally exclude merger objection lawsuits. In addition, I generally exclude lawsuits in which the securities allegation is simply that the defendants failed to register securities. On the other hand, I include lawsuits even if the defendant entity is not a publicly traded entity (for example, if the defendant is a private equity fund or a hedge fund.)
Because of these definitional issues, it is almost inevitable that various tallies of the 2008 securities lawsuits will differ.
UPDATE: The WSJ.com Law Blog has a January 5, 2009 post (here) regarding the 2008 securiteis class action filings. The Law Blog entry links to this post and includes comments from a number of commentators and practitioners in the field.
Impact on D&O Pricing?: The uptick in securities lawsuit filings in 2008 might well be expected to have an upward impact on D&O pricing, and indeed it may yet have that effect. But particular features of the 2008 filings might moderate that expected effect.
First, the concentration of the filings in the financial sector means that the impact from the heightened filing levels is not widespread throughout the D&O industry. D&O carriers are not yet experiencing the impact of the filing levels across their entire portfolio, and carriers that do not have significant financial industry exposure may not yet be experiencing elevated claims activity, although that likely will change as the credit crisis litigation wave spreads outside the financial sector.
Second, even with respect to the heightened activity levels, the impact is muted somewhat by the multiple different lawsuit filings against the same companies. The D&O impact from the third, fourth or fifth new lawsuit against the same company may not increase the aggregate losses to which insurance applies. Because the number of companies sued is less than the number of new lawsuits initiated, the aggregate claims frequency level is less than the overall filing levels might indicate.
Third, many of the defendant entities are not publicly traded companies. As I noted above, many of the defendant entities in new 2008 lawsuits were mutual funds, investment partnerships, hedge funds, or other investment vehicles. The incidence of litigation against these types of entities would have only an indirect impact at most on the market for public company D&O insurance.
Fourth, a significant amount of the securities litigation activity in 2008 involved claims likelier to create errors and omissions (E&O) insurance losses, rather than D&O losses. For example, the Madoff-related litigation and the auction rate securities litigation may or may not produce D&O insurance losses, but may well produce significant E&O losses. The spread of losses to other insurance lines could dilute the overall impact from the 2008 litigation on the D&O carriers.
Fifth, most of these cases are still in their earliest stages, and it will be some time yet before the losses begin to accrue. Until loss payments begin to mount, D&O pricing is unlikely to make dramatic changes (at least as a result of securities filing activity levels).
All of that said, the increase in litigation activity in 2008, together with the disruption involving market leader AIG and other leading carriers, as well as the prospect for continued significant litigation activity in 2009, are likely to create uncertain conditions in the D&O marketplace and could lead to increased carrier caution as 2009 progresses. Indeed, Advisen, a leading industry observer, is predicting that a hard market for insurance will develop toward the end of 2009 (about which refer here).
2008: The Year in Review: Readers interested in learning more about the 2008 securities litigation trends will want to the January 6, 2009 webcast sponsored by Securities Docket.
I will be participating in this free webcast, which will begin at 2 pm EST, along with a number of my esteemed fellow bloggers, including the Securities Docket’s own Bruce Carton; Walter Olson of the Point of Law blog; Tom Gorman of the SEC Actions blog; Francine McKenna of the Re: The Auditors blog; and Lyle Roberts of the 10b-5 Daily blog. Further information about the podcast can be found here.