United States: Surprising Findings On The Latest Class Action Litigation Trends (Video)

Last Updated: March 7 2017
Article by Julianna Thomas McCabe and Chris S. Coutroulis

The 2017 Carlton Fields Class Action Survey has just been released, and the findings reveal some unexpected trends in class action litigation, based on insights provided by 387 general counsels and chief legal officers at major corporations in more than 25 industries.

Among the key findings in this year's survey:

Class Action Litigation Spending Continues to Rise

Class action spending is up for the second consecutive year, marking the reversal of a downward trend that occurred between 2011 and 2014.

Across industries, companies spent $2.17 billion on class action lawsuits in 2016. While the percentage of companies managing at least one active class action declined, from a high of 60.6 percent in 2015 to 53.8 percent in 2016, companies perceive that the magnitude of their potential exposure and risk has increased. For companies managing class actions, volume has remained virtually unchanged from 2015, with most respondents reporting approximately six active cases.

Labor and Employment Class Actions Surge

Labor and employment matters displaced consumer fraud as the most common type of class action companies faced in 2016. Labor and employment cases now account for 37.7 percent of class actions and 38.9 percent of class action spending. This occurred as wage and hour claims surged and labor industry regulators implemented an aggressive enforcement strategy. Class actions involving intellectual property issues also rose to 7.5 percent. Data privacy class actions, highly anticipated for several years, remained a small percentage of matters overall. Although companies continue to report that these types of matters are a concern, less than 22 percent of companies have actually faced a data privacy class action.

Class Action Exposure Becomes More Polarized

Both the routine and highest-risk categories of class actions reflected increases this year, indicating that companies face class actions that are more polarized in terms of complexity and exposure level. The percentage of class actions in the bet-the-company and high-risk categories increased from 9.5 percent in 2015 to 25.3 percent, while the percentage of class actions in the routine category increased from 28 percent in 2015 to 38.7 percent. This impacted defense philosophies, with companies increasingly reporting that they either "go low" or, in complex cases, "defend at all costs." In contrast, only 20.8 percent of companies reported using a "defend at the right cost" philosophy, down sharply from a high of 33.9 percent in 2015.

In-House Staffing for Class Actions Continues to Decline

Though they increasingly face higher-risk and higher-exposure class actions, corporate legal departments continue to reduce the number of in-house attorneys used to manage those cases. Not surprisingly, these in-house attorneys are spending more time on class actions, and their companies are relying more heavily on outside counsel.

Companies Settle More than Half of Their Class Action Lawsuits

When evaluating the risks presented by class actions, exposure is still deemed the most important variable and "coming in under estimated exposure" remains a key determinant of success. Companies report that they resolve 62.5 percent of their class action lawsuits by settlement, and that most settlements occur before a class certification decision.

Risk Level Impacts Use of AFAs

The use of alternative fee arrangements to manage class actions continued to decline. The percentage of companies that relied on AFAs in their defense of class actions dropped from 49.2 to 35.8 percent. This decline reflects the challenges inherent in using alternative fee structures to manage increasingly complex and unpredictable matters. Companies that do use AFAs continue to favor fixed fee structures.

There are a number of other key findings in the survey, including corporate counsel insights on arbitration clauses, settlement strategies, and case management. Learn more in this year's report, which you can download at ClassActionSurvey.com.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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