A landmark data breach deal that requires Equifax to pay up to $425 million to consumers provides valuable monetary and injunctive benefits that "likely exceed" what class members could have achieved at trial, a Georgia federal judge said in a lengthy ruling explaining why he approved the contested settlement.
In a 122-page opinion issued on Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. elaborated on his reasoning for his Dec. 19 bench ruling granting final approval to the pact, which was crafted to resolve multidistrict litigation over a 2017 data breach at Equifax that exposed roughly 147 million consumers' personal data. Besides compensating affected consumers, Equifax has also agreed to shell out $77.5 million in attorney fees and $1 billion to improve its own data security.
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The judge noted that the deal provides more than $7 billion in aggregate benefits to consumers and represents "the largest and most comprehensive recovery in a data breach case in U.S. history by several orders of magnitude."
"Not only does the size of the settlement fund exceed all previous data breach settlements, but the specific benefits provided to class members (both monetary and nonmonetary) ... meet or substantially exceed those that have been obtained in other data breach cases," Judge Thrash ruled.
"Additionally, the court finds that much of the relief afforded by the settlement likely exceeds what could be achieved at trial, and, taken as a whole the settlement represents a result that is at the high end of the range of what could be achieved through continued litigation."
The judge called it "particularly significant" that all valid claims for out-of-pocket losses will likely be paid in full, that 3.3 million class members have already submitted claims for the credit monitoring services available under the deal — an expense currently valued at roughly $6 billion — and that all class members will have access to identity restoration services to help deal with the aftermath of any identity theft for the next seven years.
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"The plaintiffs' lawyers undertook extraordinary litigation risk in pursuing this case and investing as much time and effort as they did," Judge Thrash added. "Moreover, the amount of work devoted to this case by class counsel likely was a principal reason that they were able to obtain such a favorable settlement at a relatively early stage."
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The consumers are represented by co-lead counsel Amy Keller of DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC, Kenneth Canfield of Doffermyre Shields Canfield & Knowles LLC and Norman Siegel of Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP. Barnes Law Group LLC and Evangelista Worley LLC serve as co-liaison counsel. Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Girard Gibbs LLP, Hausfeld LLP, Tadler Law LLP, Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group, Murphy Falcon & Murphy and The Doss Firm LLC are on the plaintiffs' steering committee. Griffin & Strong PC serves as state court coordinating counsel.
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