Myriad class action suits course through the court systems every day at both the state and federal levels. Many of which wait for years and never reach the vital stage of class court certification, the most decisive step toward obtaining a settlement. The famous class action employee discrimination suit against Walmart by female employees went on for 11 years and was finally defeated by the supreme court in 2011. Many class action lawsuits reach settlements with payout amounts spanning a wide spectrum. Some payouts reach into the billions.
1998 Tobacco Master $206 Billion
This suit was brought by 46 different states attorneys as a consolidation of cases so it is not technically a class action. It was brought on behalf of states against several tobacco manufacturers. It merits inclusion for the similarities to a class action lawsuit and the sheer size it encompasses. Brown & Williamson, Lorillard, Phillip Morris, and RJ Reynolds settled with the attorney generals for expenditures by the states for the treatment of illnesses caused by smoking in the various state funded medical programs. Doing so kept them from getting sued privately by individuals. The $206 billion is set to be paid to the states over a span of 30 years.
2006 ENRON Securities $7.2 Billion
In the aftermath of 9/11, the world was rocked again by the bankruptcy of ENRON which was believed to be one of the most pioneering, profitable and expansive companies in the world. It was quickly revealed that the corporation ran rampant with corruption to hide losses and create false financials to present to investors. Their stock fell to nothing and their investors lost everything. They also won the largest securities class action settlement in U.S. history at $7.2 billion.
2005 WorldCom Securities $6.2 Billion
Similar to the ENRON situation is the WorldCom debacle. The late 90’s saw WorldCom as the largest communications company in the world. After a proposed merger with Sprint fell through, Bernie Ebbers, CEO, began taking part in fraudulent behavior to keep the stock prices high. He took $400 million from the coffers of the company to protect him from having to sell his stock. Eventually, his behavior bankrupts the company. Its investors received $6.2 billion as a settlement in their class action.
2001 Exxon Valdez $5 Billion
Once known as the most infamous oil spill in U.S. history, the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in 1989. A tanker ran ashore and spilled millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska. It took 12 years for a jury to award $5 billion to 32,000 plaintiffs for punitive damages. It was later reduced to $500 million however. The 2010 BP oil spill overtook Exxon in their oil spill notoriety.
1998 Dow Corning $3.2 Billion
The rage of big breast implants during the 70’s and 80’s turned into a nightmare in the 90’s when it was revealed that there was serious risk of autoimmune disease from rupturing. Many women brought individual and class action suits against Dow Corning which eventually sent into bankruptcy. The largest among them coming in at $3.2 billion.