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Study reveals the 2023 value of history’s largest legal settlements

Study reveals the 2023 value of history’s largest legal settlements


Research has revealed the largest legal settlements in history and how much these enormous payouts would be worth in today's economy.

Arizona Personal Injury Lawyers at High Rise Financial have identified the largest payouts to have been legally enforced upon some of the world’s most successful companies, and uncovered how much these would be worth in 2023.



Cost on settlement(£) 

Cumulative Rate of Inflation (%)

2023 Value 

Rise in £

Tobacco Master Settlement


157.4 billion


292.8 billion

135.4 billion

Opioid Epidemic


19.9 billion


22.2 billion

2.3 billion

BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill


15.3 billion


21.3 billion

6 billion

VW Emissions Scandal


11.2 billion


14.2 billion

3 billion

Enron Securities Fraud


5.5 billion


7.7 billion

2.2 billion

WorldCom Accounting Fraud


4.7 billion


7.2 billion

2.5 billion

GM Auto Defect 


3.7 billion


6.8 billion

3.1 billion

Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder


6.8 billion


6.8 billion


Fen-phen Diet Drugs


2.9 billion


5 billion

2.1 billion

Dow Corning Breast Implants


2.4 billion


4.5 billion

2.1 billion

*converted from USD > GBP

1) The Tobacco Master Settlement

Even pre-inflation, the so-called Tobacco Master Settlement, is enormous. In 1998, the four largest US tobacco companies were ordered to pay $206 billion after their marketing practices were deemed to have essentially caused a health crisis by denying the adverse health effects of smoking.

With the inflation that has occurred in the 25 years since the settlement at 86.1%, in 2023 this settlement would be as large as $383,391,276,073 (that is three hundred and eighty three billion, three hundred and ninety one million, two hundred and seventy six thousand, and seventy three dollars); $123,391,276,073 more than at its conception.

2) The Opioid Crisis Settlement

In 2021 four of the largest US corporations agreed to pay $26 billion to settle a torrent of lawsuits. Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson were all subject to legal action that claimed their business practices helped fuel the opioid crisis.

If the companies were to pay this settlement today, they would have seen an increase of $3,108,159,574 due to the 12% inflation in just two years. This puts the payout figure at $29,108,159,574 in 2023.

3) BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Settlement

The infamous BP oil spill of 2010 brought about environmental, as well as economic damage to the five Gulf states and local governments.

With inflation of 39.1% since the settlement, its $20 billion, equates to $27,824,320,358 in 2023, an increase over $7 billion, and the third largest settlement in history.

4) VW Emissions Scandal Settlement

The diesel emissions scandal that entangled Volkswagen in 2016 saw the company exposed for rigging 11 million vehicles to cheat on emissions tests. 

VW would ultimately partially reimburse many customers who had been deceived by their actions, as well as paying $14.7 billion to settle civil charges. With a cumulative rate of inflation since the settlement of 26.4%, that figure is equivalent to $18,580,441,820 in 2023, the fourth largest legal settlement in history.

5) WorldCom Accounting Fraud Settlement

In 2005, the WorldCom accounting fraud scandal came to a head with a prison sentence for the company’s former CEO, after the company was found to have inflated the value of its own assets by as much as $11 billion.

With the exposure of its improper accounting procedures pushing WorldCom to file for bankruptcy, a $6.1 billion payout to investors who lost money amid the fraud was eventually forced upon the firm.

In the years since the settlement, inflation of 55.3% means that the figure is now equivalent to $9,475,239,631.

6) GM Auto Defect Settlement

When a 1979 Chevrolet Malibu erupted in flames after a rear end collision on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, the car’s manufacturer, General Motors, was deemed liable. In 1999, the motor giants were forced into a $4.9 billion payout to six people who were severely burned in the incident.

Inflation of 82.1% since the settlement makes that figure as large as $8,922,441,176 in today’s money.

7) Enron Securities Fraud

Once the seventh most valuable corporation in the US, in 1997 Enron began to lose money and accumulate debt. Executives decided to protect the company’s share prices using illegal accounting tricks but in 2001, media speculation lead to a mass offloading of shares and a plummet in share price. Shareholders of the energy, commodities and services company found their holdings worthless. In 2008, these shareholders received a $7.2 billion settlement for the financial damage the scandal caused.

In this day and age, the cumulative interest of 40.9% since the event sees that figure worth $10,144,835,88.

8) Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Settlement

In April 2023, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $8.9 billion to tens of thousands of people who claimed the company’s talcum powder products were carcinogenic. Plaintiffs included families of people who died of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

As this settlement was so recent, it has not yet ballooned with inflation. However, it is still the eighth-largest settlement in history.

9) Fen-phen Diet Drugs Settlement

When the diet drug fen-phen was proven to be linked to potentially fatal cases of heart valve damage, American HomeProducts quickly became the target of many lawsuits.

The $3.75 billion that the company ultimately paid out would be equivalent to $6,606,377,108 after the 76% inflation that has occurred since.

10)  Dow Corning Breast Implants Settlement

In 1998, Dow Corning Corp. were forced into a payout of $3.2 billion, after their breast implants were alleged to make 170,000 people sick.

With the 25 years that have passed since seeing 86.1% inflation, this is equivalent to $5,955,592,638 in 2023

A spokesperson from High Rise Financial commented on the findings: “With the size of these settlements already seemingly unfathomable, it’s certainly interesting to learn their modern day value. This new perspective highlights the power of civil law in holding massive corporations to account and compensating victims.

While many of these companies still operate today, these scandals and settlements would spell the end for several, and all would suffer significant reputational damage. Both that financial and reputational damage would undoubtedly be exacerbated in the modern age, and the survival of these companies would seem increasingly unlikely.”

Lexis+ AI