The numbers are unambiguous – there were more securities lawsuits filed in the second half of 2008 than there were in the first half. Nevertheless commentators and observers continue to repeat the mistaken conclusion that there were fewer lawsuits filed in the second half, and even to try to discern some significance from a decline that never, in fact, occurred.
Here are the facts. As reflected on the Stanford Law School Clearinghouse Securities Class Action Clearinghouse website, which helpfully indexes the securities class action filings by quarter (here), there were 112 securities lawsuits filed in the first half of 2008 and 114 in the second half.
Not only were there more lawsuits filed in the second half of the year, but there were more lawsuits filed in the fourth quarter (65) than any other quarter during the year. Indeed, there were more lawsuits filed in December (30) than any other month during the year.
Clearly, the fact that securities lawsuit filings in fact accelerated at the end of 2008 potentially has far different implications for the future than the mistaken impression that lawsuit filings were declining.
The source of the impression that there were fewer lawsuits in the second half of 2008 is the year-end securities lawsuit filing Report jointly published by the Stanford Law School Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research. The Report, which can be found here, considered only lawsuit filings through December 15, 2008. As I noted at the time the Report was first published (here), by omitting the last two weeks’ lawsuit filings, the Report not only excluded at least 12 lawsuit filings from its analysis, but it also reached a conclusion, inconsistent with the actual aggregate year-end data, that lawsuit filings had declined in the year’s second half. When lawsuit filing data through December 31 are considered, it is clear that the number of filings did not decline in the year’s second half.
What difference does it make whether or not lawsuit filings declined in the second half? Well, a discussion of the reasons for a lawsuit filing decline is a far different conversation that a debate over the reasons why lawsuit filings accelerated in the year’s final quarter and month. The repetition of the impression that lawsuit filings were declining when in fact they were accelerating not only perpetuates a misunderstanding of what actually happened, but it also allows the possibility that decisions could be made or conclusions reached based on a faulty premise.
Unfortunately the conclusion that securities lawsuit filings declined in the second half of 2008 continues to be repeated. As reflected in a February 9, 2009 Business Insurance article (here), industry observers continue to distract themselves and perhaps others as well debating the reasons for a lawsuit filing decline that never happened, when in fact the actual discussion ought to be the reason why lawsuit filings actually accelerated at the end of the year.
The danger from this mistaken conclusion is apparent in the remarks of one leading industry observer at a recent conference. As quoted in the Business Insurance article, the observer noted, in apparent reliance on the Cornerstone report, that “in this last quarter, there were actually fewer cases filed. It got better, not worse at the end of the year.” The world certainly looks a lot different if you think things recently “got better”; unfortunately, they didn’t get better, they got worse.
The D&O insurance industry has a hard enough time behaving rationally and making sense of what has actually happened. It would be extremely unfortunate if the industry were to become even further confused by a conclusion that unsupported by full-year data.
I entreat readers to do everything they can to make sure that the misimpression about securities lawsuit filing activity levels is not perpetuated. The industry faces too many other challenges to have to deal with the added burden of laboring under misimpressions.