The number of suits related to the recent credit crisis fell sharply in 2010, but the void was more than filled by suits sparked by mergers and acquisitions, as well as litigation driven by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and other occurrences.
The unprecedented 1,196 lawsuits filed tops the previous record 1,171 suits filed in 2009, a year dominated by litigation arising from the credit crisis. While the total number of securities-related suits increased in 2010, the number of securities class action suits fell sharply: 193 as compared to 233 in 2009, the news release said.
Securities class action suits accounted for more than one third of securities suits filed prior to 2006, but represented only 16% of the 2010 total. Securities fraud suits, a category defined by Advisen to consist principally of suits brought by regulators and law enforcement agencies, made up 34% of the total. Breach of fiduciary duties suits were a close second with 33% of all securities suits filed in the year, and led all other categories of suits by the fourth quarter.
“No one event accounted for the record level of securities suits filed in 2010,” said John W. Molka, III, the author of the report. “To the contrary, the year was characterized by diversity. The most significant trend was the continued growth of suits filed in both federal and state courts alleging breach of fiduciary duties by company directors. This type of suit typically is filed as a result of a merger or acquisition. We expect to see even more of these suits as M&A activity picks up.”
Financial institutions and their directors and officers were prime targets for credit crisis lawsuits in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Though the credit crisis waned in 2010, plaintiff attorneys continued to favor financial institution defendants: 30% of all securities suits filed named financial firms or their directors and officers. Information technology and healthcare companies came in a distant second and third.