A final settlement has been reached in litigation against dozens of insurance brokers accused of price-rigging, pushing the total recovery to more than $270 million.
U.S. District Judge Claire Cecchi in Trenton approved a $10.5 million deal on Aug. 1, including $3.47 million in attorney fees.
The settlement, in In re Insurance Brokerage Antitrust Litigation, MDL No. 1663, resolves three class suits against Chubb Group, ACE Group and Munich American Reassurance Co. and related entities.
It caps litigation that encompassed 38 class suits across the country, involved 50 firms and yielded about $59 million in attorney fees.
Commercial insurance purchasers sued in 2004 after the New York state attorney general found brokerages, particularly industry leader Marsh & McLennan, conspiring with carriers to inflate prices artificially.
The plaintiffs alleged violations of federal antitrust laws, state statutes, common law and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
They sought relief on behalf of those who bought excess casualty or commercial umbrella policies from any of the defendant insurers through any of the defendant brokers — or from another insurer after getting quotes from the defendants — from 1998 through 2004.
The suits were consolidated as multidistrict litigation in federal court in Trenton in 2005.
Around that time, Marsh & McLennan, Aon and Willis Group Holdings Ltd. agreed to pay $850 million, $190 million and $50 million, respectively, to settle regulatory claims by 10 state attorneys general.
Other insurers also paid millions to resolve state regulatory actions.
The first of the five settlements in the private litigation came in February 2007, when Chief District Judge Garrett Brown Jr. approved a $121.8 million deal between the plaintiffs and Zurich American Insurance Co. and its subsidiaries, as well as six other carriers.
That August, Brown approved a $28 million settlement that resolved claims against Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and two related companies.
A third settlement, in which Marsh agreed to pay $69 million, was approved by Brown in February 2009.
Final approval of the next agreement came in March 2012, after the matter had been reassigned to Cecchi. The $41 million global settlement resolved claims against 11 carriers: AIG, Aon, AXIS Capital Holdings Ltd., CNA Financial Corp., Crum & Forster Holdings Corp., Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., Hartford, Liberty Mutual, Travelers, Willis and XL Capital Ltd.
By that time, the payments totaled $259.8 million, including fees.
Fees and expenses awarded were $30 million in the Zurich settlement, $8.89 million in the Gallagher settlement, $14.5 million in the Marsh settlement, and $10.73 million in the global settlement.
After the March 2012 global settlement, only four of the original 38 class actions remained, in which motions for dismissal were pending. Class counsel said at the time they anticipated litigating the remaining claims.
But after discovery concluded last October, the parties entered into mediation with retired U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips, who sat in Oklahoma City and now is a partner with Irell & Manella in Newport Beach, Calif.
An agreement was submitted to Cecchi last March and preliminarily approved the next month. It included Chubb, ACE and Munich. A fourth carrier left out of the March 2012 global settlement, Accordia Inc./Wells Fargo, previously entered a separate, nonclass settlement with undisclosed terms.
Chubb, ACE and Munich deposited $10.5 million in a settlement fund to be paid to the roughly 20,000 class members. Each plaintiff was to receive at least $10 — an amount that adds to recoveries from preceding settlements.
As of the July 17 fairness hearing, there were only two requests for exclusion and a lone objector challenging only the fee request: $3.47 million, or about one-third of the settlement fund, $1.02 million in costs, and $1,000 in service fees for each of eight lead plaintiffs.
On Aug. 2, Cecchi approved the agreement and awarded the requested fees, finding all the factors in Girsch v. Jepson, 521 F.2d 153 (3d Cir. 1975), weighed in favor of settlement, including the case's complexity, the lack of objectors and the risks of continuing the litigation.
The plaintiffs' claims "would require a complicated analysis involving sophisticated expert opinions" and the insurers "would likely counter with their own experts and a 'battle of the experts' would ensue," Cecchi wrote.
The matter required more than 330 depositions and review of millions of documents, Cecchi said.
The numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy-of-representation requirements for certification were met, the judge said, also finding common questions of law and fact and superiority or class adjudication to other methods.
The objector, J. Corman Family Limited Partnership, claimed the fee should be 25 percent rather than 33 percent of the common fund.
Class counsel argued that they "expended tremendous effort and resources" — 444,110 hours at $411.16 per hour, amounting to a lodestar of $182.6 million, and total expenses of $9.75 million.
Cecchi said the requested fees were within the appropriate range and the objection lacked merit.
Class counsel, Joe Whatley Jr. of Whatley Drake & Kallas in New York, says, aside from a few tag-along litigants, "this chapter is now largely closed."
In addition to the money recovery, "I think we're in a much better place now in terms of the brokers looking out for the customers' interests" rather than their own, Whatley adds.
Eamon O'Kelly of Arent Fox in New York, Munich's counsel, says all parties are happy to have concluded the matter, but declines further comment.
Peter Bisio of Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C., Chubb's counsel, and Johnny Carter of Susman Godfrey in Houston, ACE's counsel, decline comment.