Another massive year in ERISA settlementsNews added by Benefits Pro on January 19, 2016

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By Nick Thornton

The number of lawsuits brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act totaled 6,925 in 2015, according to the Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, published Seyfarth Shaw, a Chicago-based law firm.

That was actually down a bit in 2014, when 7,163 claims were brought, resulting a record amount of settlements totaling $1.3 billion.

The top 10 ERISA settlements totaled $926.5 million last year, nearly 10 times what they were in 2013, when settlements were $155.6 million.

ERISA settlements, in the aggregate, were richer than in any other area of labor law.

Statutory, or workplace injury claims totaled about $714 million for 10 largest settlements, wage and hour settlements totaled $464 million, and employee discrimination settlements totaled about $296 million.

The top ten settlements in all employment related claims totaled $2.48 billion in settlements, an all-time high, according to the report.

That upward trend is likely to encourage more litigation.

“As success in the class action litigation context often serves to encourage pursuit of more class actions by ‘copy-cat’ litigants, 2016 is apt to see the filing of more class actions than in previous years,” the report says.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which encompasses the west coast, and the 2nd Circuit, which encompasses New York, were far and away the most active circuits in upholding class certifications suits.

In terms of ERISA cases, plaintiffs won five of seven certification rulings at the appellate level.

“Exposures for corporate America have never been higher, and employers face a new wave of ‘bet-the-company’ risks that have reached a multi-billion dollar watermark for the first time,” said Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., co-chair of Seyfarth Shaw’s class action defense group and author of the report.

The report also notes that the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration unit, which enforces ERISA, recovered $696.3 billion in payments to plans and participants.

The agency conducted 2,441 civil investigations, and brought 89 suits in 2015.

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