12 Biggest Personal Injury Settlements in US History

Personal injury law plays a crucial role in the US legal system, offering protection and recourse for individuals who suffer harm due to others’ negligence. Settlements in these cases compensate the victims and act as a powerful mechanism for accountability and prevention.

Personal injury cases have led to some of the most substantial legal settlements in the United States, reflecting the critical importance of holding parties accountable for their actions. There are 12 biggest personal injury settlements in US history, with remarkable financial awards and the stories of justice behind them. Every settlement compensated for the victims’ suffering, shaping the approach to similar cases in the future. Nordean Law recognizes the importance of understanding these cases as we reflect on the potential for personal injury law to effect change.

The Role of Personal Injury Settlements: Its Importance

While personal injury settlements are meant to support those harmed due to negligence, there are some key mistakes that can ruin a personal injury case. Understanding these pitfalls can help ensure a more favorable outcome. These settlements cover medical bills, lost pay, and other costs. They also give a sense of closure, helping victims move on. The money awarded can help with physical pain, emotional stress, and life changes after the injury. Some settlements also include punitive damages, meant to punish the wrongdoer and stop bad behavior in the future. Understanding these settlements is important because it shows how the legal system can help make things right for those who’ve been wronged, ensuring they get the support they need to recover.

Top 12 Personal Injury Settlements in US History

Over the years, several landmark settlements have left a lasting imprint on personal injury law in the United States, awarding substantial compensation to victims and driving reforms in policies, safety protocols, and corporate behavior. Here are the 12 largest personal injury settlements in US history, each highlighting the victims’ resilience and their legal representatives’ commitment.

biggest settlements in US history

1. Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement ($206 Billion)

In 1998, a groundbreaking legal battle unfolded as 46 states united against America’s four largest tobacco companies. These states demanded compensation for the billions of dollars spent on treating illnesses caused by smoking, taking on the tobacco industry’s deep-rooted practices. The result was the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, a monumental $206 billion settlement, marking it as the largest in U.S. history. The case aimed to cover the medical costs for affected smokers and sought to hold the tobacco giants accountable for their misleading advertising and unethical practices.

Under the settlement, a substantial portion of the funds was directed to the Truth Initiative, dedicated to fighting tobacco and nicotine addiction in youth. This effort shed light on the harmful impacts of smoking, which had been downplayed by the tobacco industry, and established a benchmark for holding corporations accountable while promoting public health.

2. Burn Injury Claim ($150 Billion)

In a harrowing case that captured national attention in 1998, when 13-year-old Don Collins sexually assaulted eight-year-old Robert Middleton, and drenched him in gasoline and lit on fire. The severe burns covered 99 percent of his body. Robert’s struggles tragically ended in 2010 when he succumbed to skin cancer, a condition his family argued was directly caused by the extensive burns he endured years earlier.

Despite efforts by Collins’s defense to disconnect the assault from Robert’s eventual death, the jury recognized the profound and lasting impact of Collins’s actions. Collins was tried as an adult and found responsible for Robert’s wrongful death, leading to a $150 billion punitive damages award. It was a reminder of the long-term consequences of such heinous acts and the justice system’s role in acknowledging and compensating for unimaginable suffering.

3. Drunk Driving Case ($4.9 Billion)

In 1993, a catastrophic event altered the lives of the Anderson family forever. While traveling in their Chevy Malibu, they were struck by a drunk driver, causing their vehicle’s fuel tank to explode and severely burning all six family members. The family sought justice from General Motors (GM) for the defective car design that led to the explosion. After a contentious trial, the court awarded the family $4.9 billion, recognizing both compensatory and punitive damages. However, GM’s appeal resulted in a reduction of the settlement to $1.2 billion. Despite this decrease, the case still underscored the severe repercussions of corporate negligence and the devastating effects of drunk driving.

4. Auto Defect Case ($1.2 Billion)

It was a case against General Motors (GM) that stemmed from a tragic accident that inflicted severe burns on six individuals due to a fuel tank explosion in their family car, following a collision. The incident, which highlighted the dangers of faulty car systems, led to GM facing a lawsuit that culminated in a $4.9 billion jury award to the victims for the immense suffering and damages caused. The award, initially set for compensatory and punitive damages, was later adjusted to $1.2 billion by a Superior Court judge upon appeal. This case stands as a stark reminder of the critical importance of automotive safety and the dire consequences of its neglect.

5. 9/11 Attacks ($712 Million)

After the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, thousands of Ground Zero workers who developed illnesses from rescue and cleanup efforts sought justice. A settlement of $712 million was awarded to these brave individuals, acknowledging the severe health impacts they suffered. It provided compensation and led to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, ensuring ongoing support for those affected by this tragic event.

6. Bus Injury Claim ($85 Million)

A staggering $85 million settlement was reached in a case involving a pedestrian and a sightseeing tour bus in downtown Manhattan. The accident, which saw the victim dragged and severely injured by the bus, resulted in a record-breaking settlement for New York in 2018. The victim, left with lasting disabilities, received this landmark award as compensation for the profound changes to their life.

7. Car Accident Case ($71 Million)

A New York car accident in 2012 led to a $71 million settlement for a female victim who suffered a spinal injury and subsequent medical complications. In 2017, a jury recognized the extent of her suffering and the lifelong medical care she would require, awarding $11 million for pain and suffering and $60 million for medical expenses, marking one of the most substantial compensations for a car accident case.

8. Traumatic Brain Injury Claim ($60 Million)

A Virginia gas station manager tragically sustained a permanent brain injury during a train derailment. Recognizing the severity of the injury and the need for lifelong medical care, the jury awarded a $60 million settlement. The compensation comprised $46 million in damages and $14 million in interest, reflecting the serious impact of the injury on the victim’s life and the long-term support required.

9. Car Accident Claim ($41.5 Million)

A tragic on-the-job accident involving a New York City sanitation department worker led to a substantial $41.5 million settlement. The worker lost his life after being struck by a sweeper truck. In pursuit of justice, his wife filed a lawsuit against the driver for negligence. The Queens Supreme Court ruled in favor of the victim’s family, awarding them one of the largest personal injury settlements for a wrongful death case.

10. Car Accident Case ($32.5 Million)

In a case highlighting the importance of vehicle safety features, a driver suffered a traumatic brain injury due to a malfunctioning seatbelt during a car accident. The lawsuit targeted Ford Motor Company and Mazda Motor Company, which were found responsible for the faulty seatbelt. The companies were ordered to compensate the victim with a $32.5 million settlement, underlining the critical nature of reliable safety equipment in vehicles.

11. Bus Accident Claim ($27.5 Million)

A life-altering incident involving a New York City resident and a transit bus resulted in a $27.5 million lawsuit victory. The 2005 accident tragically led to the woman losing her left leg. The jury’s verdict favored the victim, reflecting the severe impact of the accident on her life and the importance of pedestrian safety in urban settings.

12. Car Crash Case ($26 Million)

A Texas lawsuit ended with a $26 million settlement for a driver who sustained a traumatic brain injury after another vehicle ran a red light. The crash caused extensive injuries, preventing the victim from returning to work and necessitating over $1.3 million in medical care and therapy. The settlement addressed both the immediate and ongoing needs of the victim, marking a significant judgment in favor of road safety and accountability.

Conclusion: The Future of Personal Injury Settlements

Personal injury settlements have evolved significantly, with landmark cases setting precedents that shape legal practices today. These settlements offer compensation to those wronged and serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of safety, accountability, and justice. Looking to the future, the role of experienced legal representation becomes increasingly crucial. Skilled personal injury attorneys fight tirelessly for your rights and help you receive the compensation you deserve.

Nordean Law guides you through the intricacies of personal injury law. Our dedicated personal injury lawyers understand the profound impact these cases have on individuals and their families. We navigate the complexities of each case effectively and advocate for a fair personal injury settlement. Contact us today for the best possible outcome in your personal injury case.

FAQs

The largest personal injury settlement ever is the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in 1998, valued at $206 billion, where major tobacco companies settled to compensate for smoking-related health care costs.

The largest settlement in US history is the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement at $206 billion, making it not just the largest personal injury settlement but the largest legal settlement overall.

Injuries that result in significant long-term or permanent disability, loss of earning capacity, and extensive medical needs, such as spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and severe burns, typically result in the highest compensation.

Slip-and-fall settlements can reach into the millions depending on the severity and circumstances, but specific amounts can vary widely. One of the largest known settlements exceeded $12 million for a case involving severe brain injury.

One of the largest punitive damages awards was in the 1999 case against General Motors, with a jury initially awarding $4.9 billion in punitive damages, later reduced upon appeal. The case was related to a car accident due to a fuel tank design flaw.

Wrongful death settlements can vary significantly, but one of the largest recorded is the $150 billion awarded in a Texas case involving a child who was attacked and severely burned, leading to his later death from skin cancer related to the burns.

For more on wrongful death settlement taxation, visit our guide on wrongful death lawsuits​

Picture of Author Bio
Author Bio

Samuel ‘Sam’ Nordean is a founding partner of Nordean Law, APC. He is passionate about standing up for people who struggle with accidental injuries and mistreatment from insurance companies. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science degrees in Biochemistry from Portland State University. He then earned his Juris Doctor degree from Chapman University School of Law. Sam started Nordean Law to commit to helping people who cannot fight for themselves. His strengths are in representing victims in car accidents, fatal accidents, negligence cases and liability accidents.

Picture of Author Bio
Author Bio

Samuel ‘Sam’ Nordean is a founding partner of Nordean Law, APC. He is passionate about standing up for people who struggle with accidental injuries and mistreatment from insurance companies. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science degrees in Biochemistry from Portland State University. He then earned his Juris Doctor degree from Chapman University School of Law. Sam started Nordean Law to commit to helping people who cannot fight for themselves. His strengths are in representing victims in car accidents, fatal accidents, negligence cases and liability accidents.

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