02 Jun 2019

Falling filings still yield $1.8 billion damages

First annual Lex Machina litigation report shows over $1.8 billion in ERISA-related damages awarded 2016-2018 despite decline in filings.


Lex Machina, a LexisNexis company, has released its first ERISA Litigation Report which reveals that the number of ERISA case filings declined from nearly 9,000 cases to about 6,600 cases from 2010 to 2018, a 26 per cent drop. Delinquent contribution case filings have seen a significant decline from nearly 4,400 cases in 2010 to over 1,900 cases in 2018.


This decline is likely the result of a decrease in pension-related litigation over the last decade. On the other hand, claim denial case filings have risen over the same period, peaking at more than 4,000 filings in 2017, up from just over 3,000 filings in 2010 indicating employers are switching from pensions to 401Ks or similar retirement accounts. The report, which highlights data-driven trends and insights from more than 86,000 cases concerning disputes over the administration of employee benefits plans protected by The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. The report focuses on the three-year time period from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2018 to showcase recent trends in U.S. District Court, but also looks at longer-term trends.  The ERISA Litigation Report highlights a broad range of litigation data, including case filings, case timing, most active districts, judges, parties and law firms, case resolutions and findings, and damages awarded. The report focuses on two primary case types: claim denial and delinquent contribution claims, which make up 85 per cent of all ERISA cases in the Lex Machina database. Greg Brumfield, legal data expert at Lex Machina, said “Lex Machina's first-of-its-kind ERISA report provides insights into this highly complex and dynamic area of the law, illuminating the intricacies and litigation trends of ERISA-protected benefit plans that can't be found anywhere else.” Mr Brumfield explained, “With billions of dollars at stake, ERISA attorneys need access to the most accurate data possible to help them provide better counsel to their clients and make better business and legal decisions.”

Other highlights

Other report highlights covering 2016 through 2018 include: Courts awarded over $1 billion in approved class action settlement damages. The next largest damages award type was ERISA plan benefits (more than $670 million), followed by liquidated damages (more than $80 million). Northern District of Illinois had the most case filings during the 2016-2018 period (1698 cases), likely due to its strong union presence and large population. The next most-active districts were the Central District of California (1053 cases) and the District of New Jersey (1030). The top four most active ERISA judges in the US came from the District of South Carolina, due to the large number of life insurance companies in that state as well as a specialized ERISA case management structure. In claim denial cases, healthcare companies were the most active plaintiffs, while insurance companies were the most active defendants. In delinquent contribution cases, plaintiffs were mostly pension funds, while defendants tended to be construction companies or insurance companies. A full copy of the report can be requested here.