A ‘class action’ is a type of legal situation where an individual, or a group of people, join forces to sue a corporation or institution. Often this is done on behalf of a much bigger collective, who share the same, or a similar sense of injustice.

One of the key benefits of launching a class action is that it does not require everyone affected to file or fund individual lawsuits.

Instead, it allows a group of people whose individual damages are not big enough to warrant separate court cases, to have their cases heard and represented.

Over the years, several class actions have successfully caused significant damage to the reputations of some of the world’s biggest and most powerful corporations – here is an example.

Covering a wide spectrum of issues, from financial mismanagement of pension funds or investments, and significant health conditions, to huge environmental disasters like oil spills and several types of institutional discrimination, many corporations have been forced to pay significant amounts of money in damages after being punished for their actions.

To give you an idea of how successful class actions can be, here are 10 of the largest lawsuit settlements in the world.

 10 Biggest Class Action Settlements

The ten class actions below all happened in the USA and resulted in companies having to pay more than US $3 billion in damages.

Class Action Settlements

Here is a brief overview of these lawsuits in reverse order:

10. Tyco International – $3.2 Billion

In 2007 in New Hampshire, a federal judge rubber-stamped settlements amounting to $3.2 billion in the case against executives from Tyco International.

Found guilty of profiting at the expense of shareholders, the company paid almost $3 billion of this fine, while PricewaterhouseCoopers, who were their former auditing firm, forked out the rest.

Their disgraced, former CEO, Dennis Kozlowski was incarcerated for six and a half years and was also forced to pay $167 million in fines and restitution for his part in the impropriety.

Similarly, Mark Swartz, who worked at the company as the former CFO, also went to prison and was forced to pay $72 million.

9. Cendant – $3.2 Billion

In 2000, a $3.2 billion settlement was ratified by a New Jersey federal judge after a landmark ruling against Cendant Corp. A travel and real estate company that was owned by several parties including Ramada Inns.

Launched by shareholders who claimed that a merger had significantly increased the value of the company, investors discovered irregularities in accounting that resulted in the company’s stock losing a mindblowing $14 billion in a single day!

Cendant shareholders were represented as lead plaintiffs by New York City and state employees, as well as pension funds for Californian state employees.

Both the incumbent chairman Walter Forbes and his vice chairman Kirk Shelton were jailed on conspiracy charges and made to pay restitution of more than $3 billion.

8. Silicone Breast Implants – $3.4 Billion

During the mid-1990s, makers of breast implants that used silicone gel agreed to settle against claims they had subjected thousands of women to the risks of connective tissue and autoimmune disorders.

Led by Dow Corning, a group of manufacturers, are believed to have initially settled for $4.75 billion. However, the settlement apparently collapsed on account of the number of claims exceeding expectations.

Eventually, the other manufacturers, which included Bristol-Myers Squibb, settled at $3.4 billion. While Dow Corning went to bankruptcy court to resolve its claims.

 7. American Indian Trust – $3.4 Billion

In 2011, American Indians launched a class action against the federal government which claimed they had mismanaged funds that had been held within land trust accounts that dated all the way back to the 19th century.

The case was launched after concerns were raised about the government’s practice of leasing out tribal land for mining, agriculture, and other such extraction activities, and in particular, the way they were then distributing revenues to American Indians.

Final approval for a $3.4 billion settlement was granted by a federal judge in the District of Columbia. The court authorized $1,000 payments to around 325,000 members who were involved in launching the class action.

6. Fen-Phen Diet Drugs – $3.8 Billion

In another big class action suit that took place in 2000, a Philadelphia federal judge ratified a settlement of $3.75 billion which was taken out against the manufacturers of a diet drug called fen-phen.

Sold by American Home Products, over six million people are believed to have used the drug. Which had been associated with the strong potential of fatal heart valve damage, before it was eventually removed from the marketplace in 1997.

The settlement resulted in some people receiving up to $1.5 million individually.

5. Worldcom – $6.1 Billion

Over in New York, a federal judge in 2005, approved settlements that exceeded $6.1 billion against the telecommunications giant WorldCom, in relation to accusations of shareholder fraud litigation.

Comptroller Alan Hevesi was responsible for leading the case on behalf of the company’s stock and bondholders, which included the public pension fund of New York State.

After the ruling was made some $2 billion of the overall total was paid by JP Morgan Chase. While other banks in the settlement, including the likes of Citigroup and Bank of America, paid a share of it too.

Their former CEO Bernie Ebbers, as well as the CFO Scott Sullivan both, served time in prison.

4. Enron Securities – $7.2 Billion

Led by the University of California, a class action lawsuit against the energy trading company Enron was launched by shareholders in 2008. Who claimed the company defrauded them shortly before declaring bankruptcy.

This was upheld by a federal judge in Houston, who authorized a $7.2 billion settlement.

Over 90% of the settlement for this fraud was provided by Citigroup, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and JP Morgan Chase. With around 1.5 million people and investors receiving payments.

Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, two high profile, former Enron executives were indicted for their roles in the fraud and conspiracy.

3. Volkswagen – $14.7 Billion

The car company, Volkswagen, was forced to pay $14.7 billion after a federal judge in San Francisco in 2016 ruled they were guilty of running a scheme that cheated the emission tests that took place on its diesel cars.

As a result of the settlement, Volkswagen car owners received funds for vehicle buybacks that were capped at market values before the class action took place.

An additional cash payment was also made for 475,000 owners of their diesel cars too.

2. BP – $20 Billion

Also in 2016, a federal judge in New Orleans gave final approval to a class action lawsuit against BP.

This was in relation to civil claims of significant environmental damage that resulted from the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The final settlement figure was believed to be $20 billion, with much of the funds covering federal penalties, and between $5 – $6 billion being paid to local and state governments.

Unlike the other class actions above, this was led by the plaintiff’s bar, as opposed to public prosecutors.

Some legal experts criticized some of the finer details of the settlement as BP was allowed to claim $15 billion of it as a tax write-off.

 1. Tobacco Companies – $206 Billion

By far the most significant class action lawsuit settlement to ever take place happened in 1998.

At this time, Philip Morris, along with RJ Reynolds and a couple of other prominent tobacco companies agreed to pay a minimum settlement of a mindblowing $206 billion!

This was to cover medical costs for smoking-related afflictions and illnesses.

Attorneys general that represented 46 different states took part in the settlement, which provides annual payments over a period of 25 years.

Like with the BP case above, this was not a traditional class action as it involved public prosecutors. However, the agreement did resolve a longstanding liability with regard to litigation for class action within the tobacco industry as a whole.

Final Thought

So, there you have it!

Our review of 10 of the largest lawsuit settlements in the world.

While a corporate setting doesn’t apply to all criminal cases – an example of this is a sexual assault case – many of the largest lawsuit settlements in the world are within a corporate setting, which makes sense given the number of people these legal oversights can impact.

The above examples are proof of what can be achieved when people stand together to fight unlawfulness, unethicality, and dishonesty.

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Sumona is the publisher for Finance Team. In terms of professional commitments, she carries out publishing sentient blogs by maintaining top to toe on-page SEO aspects. Follow more of her contributions at SmartBusinessDaily and FollowtheFashion

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