The Largest Settlements and Verdicts in U.S. History, and Why They Matter

December 1, 2022 | David Abels
The Largest Settlements and Verdicts in U.S. History, and Why They Matter When someone suffers a serious injury or illness because of the negligent actions—or inactions—of an individual or company, our civil justice system allows victims to seek financial compensation for their damages and losses. This is an extremely important part of our society since it serves as a safety net to prevent innocent injury victims from going broke or not getting the care they need. The following list is an overview of some of the biggest personal injury settlements in American history. For more information, reach out to our Chicago personal injury lawyers.

Tobacco Settlement — $206 Billion

The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was filed in 1998 against the four largest tobacco companies in the United States. This included Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, and Lorillard. The lawsuit was brought by attorneys general from 46 states to get compensation for all the money tobacco illnesses cost the state healthcare system. The final settlement agreement required these companies to pay $206 billion dollars. In addition to the financial sum, the tobacco companies involved also agreed to stop certain marketing practices, to pay states for future healthcare in perpetuity, and to fund anti-smoking campaigns like Truth. This was an important case in America because it imposed major changes to the ways tobacco companies were able to market their products. Without this ruling, Big Tobacco marketing practices may have continued unchecked, including targeting young people. This settlement is thought to have prevented countless respiratory illnesses and cancers.

BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill — $20 Billion

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that wreaked havoc on the gulf coast, BP faced a massive class action lawsuit. A New Orleans judge gave final approval on a payout nearing $20 billion dollars, which would be paid in both private and public settlements. A major reason for the size of the payout was to cover the federal penalties for the massive amount of environmental damage directly caused by the spill. The remaining amount went to state and local governments for recovery efforts, as well as for private settlements for victims of illnesses like cancer.

Volkswagen Emissions Scandal — $14.7 Billion

The Volkswagen emissions scandal (referred to as Dieselgate by some) began when the EPA filed a violation of the Clean Air Act against Volkswagen. The automaker was intentionally programming some engines to only activate their emission controls while undergoing testing. This falsely allowed them to pass the tests. In real world driving, the cars produced 40 times the allowed amount of emissions. The $14.7 billion dollar settlement funded a buy-back program and an additional cash payment to victims. While this is one of the few cases on this list that does not directly deal with personal injury, it is worth noting that multiple studies estimated that the extra emissions created by VW led to 10 to 350 unnecessary deaths and thousands of cases of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.

General Motors Auto Defect Case — $4.9 Billion

Every year, millions of defective auto parts are recalled. In most cases, there are no serious issues. But an L.A. jury in 1999 ordered General Motors to pay a record $4.9 billion in damages after a family of six was trapped inside their car. The vehicle was rear ended, and the faulty placement of the gas tank caused the vehicle to catch fire. The victims inside suffered severe burns. The verdict was stated to allow $107 million to compensate the family for pain and suffering and disfigurement. The additional $4.8 billion was for punitive damages after finding that GM acted out of fraud or malice. A judge later reduced the award to $1.2 billion. However, this case exemplifies the kind of harm that negligent corporations can cause unsuspecting consumers. This verdict amount may be rare, but serious and life-altering injuries caused by defective auto parts are not.

Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Case — $4.69 Billion

Baby powder is a staple in lots of people’s lives and is something most people remember from their childhood. This explains why it was so shocking when it was revealed that not only did talc-based body powder have cancer-causing asbestos in it, but Johnson & Johnson knew about it for years and hid the fact. That’s why a jury awarded a $4.69 billion dollar payout to 22 women after they claimed the powder caused their ovarian cancer. An appeals court rejected Johnson & Johnson’s appeal, but reduced the verdict to $2.12 billion. This case was extremely important due to the huge number of people who have been using J&J’s products on a daily basis for years. Currently, there are over 19,000 active cases related to talc powder pending.

Fen-phen Diet Drugs Settlement— $3.75 Billion

In 2000, a federal judge approved a $3.75 billion settlement for victims of the diet drug known as fen-phen. The drug potentially caused fatal heart valve damage. Before the drug was removed from the market, it was used by millions of people as a weight loss aid. The settlement provided funds for injury victims based on their injuries and the length of time they used the drug. Defective drugs are not limited to diet pills, unfortunately. In recent years, popular medications like Zantac and Belviq have been found to be harmful.

Silicone Breast Implants — $3.4 Billion

In the 1990’s, a group of silicone breast implant manufacturers were sued when it was found that the implants caused autoimmune and connective tissue disorders. After one manufacturer went bankrupt from the number of cases filed against them, the victims ultimately got compensation in the form of a $3.4 billion dollar settlement. Settlements as in this defective medical device case put an end to a dangerous situation. But it also calls attention to current and future issues so that consumers are more informed.

Actos Diabetes Drugs — $2.4 Billion

Takeda Pharmaceutical agreed to a settlement of $2.4 billion dollars after it was found that the drug producer’s diabetes medication called Actos led to bladder cancer in some patients. It was also found that Takeda concealed the dangers of using their product. Sometimes, exposing the malicious acts of a corporation is the only reason that changes are made. Without people standing up against them, they would continue producing harmful medications aware of the injuries they could cause.

Brain Injury Caused by Train Derailment — $60 Million

A gas station manager in Virginia had his life changed forever after a train derailed next to his gas station. The victim suffered from permanent injuries, including a serious traumatic brain injury, which required long-term medical care. Due to this, he was awarded $60 million dollars in total for the injuries he suffered.

Brain Injury Due to a Defective Seatbelt — $32.5 Million

A man from Orlando, Florida suffered a traumatic brain injury after his seatbelt failed during an auto accident. The seatbelt that was supposed to protect his life ended up being defective. The victim filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company and Mazda Motor Company. The jury awarded $32.5 million in damages, agreeing that the seatbelt was defective.

Bus Accident Causes Leg Amputation — $27.5 Million

A woman was awarded $27.5 million by a New York jury after she was hit by a city bus and had to have her left leg amputated as a result. The trial took four years, but in the end, the victim got the compensation she needed to rebuild after such a horrific bus accident.

Pedestrian Accident Causes Brain Injury— $22 Million

In another case of a pedestrian accident, a woman suffered permanent brain damage and other bodily injuries after she was hit by a commercial truck while crossing a street in New York. A jury awarded the victim $22 million in financial restitution for medical bills, pain and suffering, and for a lifetime of in-home care.

Abels & Annes, Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers

If you or a loved one has been injured by a person or company’s negligence, consult an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights. The attorneys at Abels & Annes are here to help. For a free case evaluation, call us at (312) 924-7575 or contact us using our online form.
David Abels Author Image

David Abels


David Abels has carved a niche for himself in the personal injury law sector, dedicating a substantial part of his career since 1997 to representing victims of various accidents. With a law practice that spans over two decades, his expertise has been consistently recognized within the legal community.

Author's Bio

You Might Be Also Interested In

Can I Sue for an…

You might sue for an old injury, but always seek the advice of an experienced injury attorney. The…

View Post

How Our Lawyers Handle Allstate…

Our lawyers handle Allstate claims with urgency and integrity, placing our clients’ best interests at the forefront of…

View Post

Why Pay for a Lawyer?

You pay for a lawyer so they can secure fair compensation for an injury, illness, or the loss…

View Post