The United States is a country known for being litigious. While some of these cases are frivolous and others are legitimate, the US courts have seen it all. Here are 13 class action lawsuits with the biggest settlement amounts in history:
Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement
The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) was a settlement reached in 1998 between 46 states and the US Department of Justice on one side and major tobacco companies on the other. The MSA resulted from a class action lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice against the major cigarette manufacturers.
The MSA required tobacco companies to pay out approximately $206 billion over 25 years. All of these funds were used by states to pay for anti-smoking programs, health care coverage for low-income residents, medical research, and other services related to tobacco control and smoking prevention programs.
Tobacco Reporter recently reported a fresh controversy in the matter, as New Mexico sued a dozen tobacco companies over payments related to the 1998 Master settlement agreement. It is alleged that New Mexico has lost more than USD 84 million in the last 14 years because of conspiracy and breach of the contract.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit
The verdict of the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit has been the most significant environmental class action settlement in U.S. history. It was reached between the federal government and more than 70,000 people who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune.
The Camp Lejeune water contamination settlement amounts come after years of lawsuits by Marines and their family members who claimed they contracted various diseases due to exposure to toxic chemicals like benzene and vinyl chloride that leaked into the groundwater at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from about 1953 through 1987.
In addition to providing compensation for former residents of Camp Lejeune or their families, the recent ruling also allows those affected by contaminated drinking water at the base during that period to file claims under a new law called the Camp Lejeune Justice Act 2022 (the CJA).
Fen-Phen was a combination of two drugs, fenfluramine and phentermine. It was prescribed to people with obesity and was withdrawn from the market in 1997 after reports of heart valve problems began circulating.
In 2000, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of those who had taken Fen-Phen or similar diet drugs but had not experienced any side effects because they wanted compensation for being included in the product recall. The case was settled in 2003 for $3 billion.
The Equifax Data Breach Settlement
The Equifax data breach happened in 2017 and affected 143 million US consumers. It was the largest data breach in US history.
Equifax is a credit reporting agency, and it reported that hackers stole personal information from approximately 145.5 million people, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses.
In addition to this personal information stolen from Equifax’s database, hackers also accessed credit card numbers for 209,000 people as well as dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 people.
In 2018 the Federal Trade Commission fined Equifax $700k for initially failing to disclose that hackers had accessed sensitive consumer data through its website instead of via a security flaw.
Microsoft Antitrust Litigation
Microsoft was accused of violating antitrust laws by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, which resulted in a $1 billion fine. The company was also ordered to release a version of Windows without Internet Explorer and provide access to their APIs (application programming interfaces) to developers.
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Litigation
The Exxon Valdez case is one of the largest environmental class action lawsuits in history, and it’s a good example of how an individual can file a claim for damages.
The 1989 oil spill left 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Following the spill, more than 40,000 individuals who were affected filed claims against Exxon Mobil Corporation (later renamed XOM).
In 1991, a group representing these individuals filed suit against Exxon Mobil and other companies involved in the clean-up efforts. The case was settled out of court for $900 million on Feb 14th, 1994.
Volkswagen Emissions Scandal
You may have heard of the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal. It was a massive scandal involving cheating on emissions tests, resulting in the largest settlement amount ever awarded to consumers.
The scandal began when researchers discovered that Volkswagen had installed software on 11 million diesel engines that would lower emissions during testing but emit up to 40 times more than the legal limit on roads. The company admitted to this practice after being caught and agreed to pay $14.7 billion in civil penalties, distributed among 48 states (plus DC).
According to The Times, Volkswagen is recently gearing up to pay £12 million to Scottish consumers in a legal settlement for the same scandal. It was claimed by 7,800 consumers that the low-emission program reduced the value of their cars.
Dalkon Shield IUD Product Liability Litigation
The Dalkon Shield IUD Product Liability Litigation began in 1980, when more than 300 women filed lawsuits against A.H. Robins Company and its parent company, Pfizer Inc., alleging that the Dalkon Shield intrauterine device (IUD) caused serious injuries, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy and infertility.
In 1986, Robins/Pfizer agreed to a $2 billion settlement with over 10 million plaintiffs who used or were exposed to the product between 1971 and 1981. The agreement covered both medical expenses and punitive damages for pain and suffering related to their injuries.
Because of this large number of plaintiffs, along with several other factors, the Dalkon Shield litigation became one of the largest product liability cases ever handled by American courts.
This article has given an overview of some of the biggest class action lawsuits in US history. While you may not have heard about these cases, they have had an impact on the world that we live in today. The amount of money awarded to the plaintiffs is staggering, and it shows just how important class action lawsuits are for bringing justice to those who deserve it most.
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