Duane Morris Takeaway: This week’s episode of the Class Action Weekly Wire features Duane Morris partners Jerry Maatman and Jennifer Riley with their analysis of significant class action settlements throughout 2022 and a preview settlement trends in 2023.
Jerry Maatman: Hello loyal blog readers and thank you for joining our weekly installment of the Class Action Weekly Wire. Today I’m joined by my partner Jen Riley, the co-chair of the Duane Morris Class Action Practice Group. Thanks for being on our podcast today, Jen.
Jennifer Riley: Great to be here, thanks for having me Jerry.
Jerry: Today we’re discussing I think the most interesting development in the class action space over the last 24 months, and that would be settlement activity. I’m a big believer that one can tell a lot about what’s going on in the class action world based on settlements in terms of what the going rate is to settle these cases – and the Duane Morris Class Action Review has a full chapter on the top 10 settlements measured by monetary values across a wide area of cases. I know, Jen, that the last year was an exceptional year of settlements – what was the major takeaway for employers?
Jen: Absolutely, Jerry. So in 2022 there were more billion dollar settlements than ever before. The opioid litigation settlements in particular fueled record highs as distributors and manufacturers inked settlements with numerous states to pay out for allegations that they contributed to the opioid epidemic in the United States. So all 10 of the largest settlements of the year 2022 were opioid related. Those numbers were astronomical – they included settlements for $7.4 billion involving distributor McKesson and $6.1 billion involving distributor AmerisourceBergen to resolve the vast majority of the opioid lawsuits brought by state and local governmental against those entities.
Jerry: It’s interesting, Jen – having studied this space for going on 20 years now, most years’ average settlements across all areas were three to five billion dollars and all of a sudden have a year where the settlements top $60 billion. It brought to mind for me the only analogous situation was two decades ago when state attorney generals and private plaintiffs settled big tobacco cases – about 20 to 25 billion dollars, a lot of money at that time two decades ago was spent, so 2022 was an exceptionally unique year by any measure. I think one of the largest consumer fraud settlements, the $6 billion student loan settlement in Sweet, et al. v. Cardona Student Debt Cancellation Settlement kind of rounded out the story in terms of big blockbuster numbers across the board.
Jen: I will also note that there were some very large antitrust settlements in 2022. The top one came in at about $2.67 billion in In Re Blue Cross Blue Shield Antitrust Litigation. That was an antitrust class action involving claims that health insurance companies violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by entering into unlawful agreements to restrain competition among them in the health and insurance sales market.
Jerry: Well not only antitrust, but also securities fraud – we had the $1 billion In Re Dell Technologies Inc. Class V Stockholders Litigation settled in Delaware as well as the $800 million In Re Twitter Inc. Securities Litigation. Those were robust settlement numbers that also pushed the settlements even higher. What were some of the other areas that you think worth watching in the current calendar year in terms of the potential for large class action settlements?
Jen: Well, definitely the largest settlement so far this year happens to be in the products liability and mass torts space. There the top story is the resolution of claims relating to contamination from so-called forever chemicals in firefighting foam. As of August of this year, all of the claims by local water authorities and municipalities have been resolved in a global settlement agreement. 3M, DuPont, and other defendants will reportedly pay about $10.3 billion to resolve those claims as part of that settlement deal.
Jerry: That is one heck of a blockbuster settlement. The other area where I think we’re going to see significant settlement activity at very high levels would be in the antitrust bucket, and will continue to see large numbers there although it would take a lot of settlements to break the record that was compiled in calendar year 2022 by our calculations checking this on a daily basis from January 1 to the present, we’re at about $38 billion dollars so uh year even if there wasn’t another settlement in 2023 after 2022, 2023 would be the biggest settlement year in the history of American jurisprudence, so still a very, very impressive record being shown by the plaintiffs’ bar in monetizing these class actions.
Jen: Agreed. Those are some impressive sums thus far this year, it will be very interesting to see how the rest of the year unfolds on that front.
Jerry: We’ll be sure to share these results in our analysis with our readers and listeners in terms of our 2024 Duane Morris Class Action Review. Thanks Jen for joining me today and for your great insights and analysis as always, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in to our Friday weekly podcast. Thank you.