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Biggest Class Action Lawsuits in History

Have you ever gotten one of those notices in the mail about a class action lawsuit, only to find that you’re owed less than a dollar in damages?

Many people found out the hard way that class action settlements aren’t all they’re cracked up to be when thousands of people thought they’d be getting a check from Equifax–only to discover that the $700 million settlement doesn’t actually go that far when it’s split between that many people.

However, sometimes class action lawsuits result in massive paydays for the people affected by them. Here are some of the biggest settlements in legal history.

Volkswagen

So much has happened in the last four years that it’s easy to forget what a huge deal the Volkswagen emissions scandal is.

The German automakers lied about the environmental impact of their vehicles and cheated on emissions tests. The resulting class action lawsuit ended with a $14.7 billion settlement to buy back the cars and offer cash payments to drivers who’d been duped.

Breast Implants

Since the 1970s, people were reporting medical issues after receiving silicone breast implants. Multiple lawsuits were filed against Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of the silicone implants, and eventually the company was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1995.

A 1998 class action lawsuit awarded a total of $3.2 billion in damages–or about $30,000 per person.

Enron

In 2006, Enron was forced to pay $7.2 billion after they were successfully sued for fraud.

Despite filing for bankruptcy and paying out billions, at least one group of people came out of the scandal winners: the 2006 documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room received multiple awards and was nominated for an Oscar.

Exxon-Valdez

One of the most infamous disasters in history, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989 was an ecological nightmare. Millions of gallons of oil ended up in the Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska–and Exxon ended up being ordered to pay $5 billion in damages when the lawsuit was finally resolved twelve years later.

GlaxoSmithKline

Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline paid out $3 billion after they pleaded guilty in a class-action lawsuit over their antidepressants. It turns out the drugs ran the risk of making certain patients more depressed–and then tried to cover up the fact.

Big Tobacco

Way back in 1998, Philip Morris and three other tobacco companies were successfully sued for $206 billion. The money was supposed to cover the medical costs of people suffering from smoking-related illnesses, as well as covering the costs of public prosecutors, to be paid out over 25 years. It remains the largest class action settlement in history.