I tell people all the time when I speak at seminars that compliance is key because in a downturn, participants will sue plans and their fiduciaries over things they just ignored when the markets just kept going up, up and up, with participants’ account balances doing the same. I have frequently noted this in posts as well here on this blog, reminding people that when the market goes up, participants don’t get upset that compliance problems or excessive fees or the like meant they earned “only” 12 or 14% in a given year, rather then 15 or 16% in that year, but they get plenty upset when those problems in a plan mean the difference between a loss and a bigger loss.

My support for this premise has always been anecdotal, based on what I see in litigation and learn in my discussions with fiduciaries, plan sponsors, vendors and participants. It appears there is some verifiable independent data to back this up, though:

The amount of lawsuits associated with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) have increased significantly since the beginning of the recession, the Rockford Register Star reports.

According to data from the US District Court, 9,300 lawsuits related to ERISA were filed in the country during the 12-month span that ended on March 31, 2010. While that number is lower than the nearly 11,500 lawsuits in 2004, it represents a significant increase since the beginning of the recession, according to the news provider.