JPMorgan sees $4.5 billion legal hit

March 1, 2011, 3:04 AM UTC

Think you’ve got problems? Check out JPMorgan Chase’s legal docket.

The second-biggest U.S. bank by assets said Monday that its legal losses in coming years could exceed the amount it has already set aside by as much as $4.5 billion.

See you in court

That makes JPMorgan Chase (JPM), by its own assessment, the bank with the biggest legal headaches coming up, unseating Citi (C), which last week said its own costs could exceed reserves by $4 billion.

The number brings the running toll of litigation-related losses on the biggest U.S. banks to $11.2 billion.

JPMorgan’s comment is worth noting because the bank has been among the more conservative U.S. financial institutions in bracing for the wave of legal challenges tied to the subprime meltdown and the mortgage mess.

The bank added repeatedly to its litigation reserves in 2010, and legal costs soared last year to $7.4 billion from $161 million a year earlier.

JPMorgan Chase noted in its annual report filed with regulators that it and its subsidiaries “are defendants or putative defendants in more than 10,000 legal proceedings, in the form of regulatory/government investigations as well as private, civil litigations.”

CEO Jamie Dimon has been saying the subprime fraudfest and the mortgage fiasco will take years to play out, while stressing that full employment for lawyers won’t threaten the bank’s good health.

And of course, just because the bank is looking at a huge legal bill doesn’t mean it has done anything wrong. JPMorgan Chase “believes it has meritorious defenses to the claims asserted against it in its currently outstanding legal proceedings and it intends to defend itself vigorously in all such matters,” the bank says.

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