The most expensive lawsuit settlements in history

Lawsuits are not uncommon in the world today. But they can also be very expensive – especially if you do not win!

This means that often, the case is resolved out of court before it even gets that far. Going to court can be expensive, lengthy, and somewhat traumatic for everybody who is involved in the case, and so often the best way to resolve the issue is to settle it before it gets to court. In the UK, there is an out-of-court settlement rate of between 96% and 97%.

It does not necessarily mean an admittance of guilt but does enable those involved to settle the case and move on without the whole thing being dragged through the court system. From massive corporate trials to celebrity divorces, there can be enormous settlements made out of court. In this article, we will look at some of the lawsuit settlements that have involved some of the highest amounts of money ever.

1998 – The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement – $206 Billion

The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was entered in November 1998 and is still the largest lawsuit settlement in history. Paying out a total of $206 billion over 25 years, the case was bought against the four biggest tobacco companies – Brown & Williamson, Lorillard, Phillip Morris Inc., and R J Reynolds, mandating them to pay for medical-related costs due to illnesses linked to the smoking of tobacco.

The outcome of the case also stipulated that the tobacco companies had to curtail or end some of their tobacco marketing practices, as well as dissolve certain tobacco industry groups.

2010 – Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill – $20 Billion

The Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig was operated by BP; an explosion killed ten people and caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Whilst not being entirely deemed to be the fault of BP, they were found guilty of a number of different charges including manslaughter and misdemeanours. The settlement covered a compensation fund for the victims and economic losses that were experienced as a result of the oil spill such as medical expenses in the future.

2012 – Smartphone Wars – $40 Billion

The 2012 Smartphone Wars were between Apple and Samsung and centred around patent infringement in the early days of smartphones. Apple challenged Samsung in a series of lawsuits in a number of different countries around the world. Samsung was initially a component provider for Apple, and when they released their own version of Smartphone, Apple filed against them.

The case was heard all over the world, with different outcomes in different countries. It has been a very messy process and is still ongoing, but Apple has received a payment of $40 billion.

1999 – Rupert Murdoch vs Anna Torv – $1.7 Billion

The 1999 Rupert Murdoch Vs Anna Torv case has been labelled the most expensive divorce in the world. The business and media tycoon is estimated to be worth $12.5 billion, and a divorce was filed when he was caught cheating on his then-wife, Anna Torv in 1999.

The married couple had three children, and ultimately, Anna Torv received an estimated settlement of $1.7 billion. Murdoch was accused of having an affair with Wendi Deng, and he married her two weeks after his divorce with Torv was finalised.

2010 – Tiger Woods vs Elin Nordegren – $750 Million

There have been many ‘celebrity’ divorce cases in the past few years with settlements being made into the millions. One of the most famous and highest settlements was the case of top golfer, Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren.

The couple was together for about six years, and their marriage ended when it was alleged that Woods had affairs with up to 20 women. It is believed that Nordegren won full custody of their two children as well as a settlement of $750 million.

2014 – Webster Lucas vs McDonalds – $1.5 Million

The case of Webster Lucas vs McDonalds is often cited as petty and an argument over a napkin. However, there is more to it than the fact that the manager of a Californian McDonalds mumbled under his breath when he was asked for another napkin.

Webster Lucas and the manager of the restaurant were involved in a disagreement resulting in an accusation of racial discrimination. Webster Lucas threatened to sue McDonalds and was awarded $1.5 million due to “undue mental anguish and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

”From the cases between huge corporate businesses such as Apple and Samsung to public celebrity divorces such as Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren, no-one really likes going to court. It is necessary at times, however.

Settling out of court is often the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to resolve a legal issue, and with a good solicitor on board, you can often resolve your case with as little stress as possible for all involved.

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Last reviewed on 11/07/23 by Joseph Norton who is an Associate Director and Head of Compensation