Multimillion Dollar Personal Injury Settlements in the U.S.

Most personal injury cases result in relatively modest settlements. However, there have been a number of record-breaking multimillion-dollar awards in the United States over the years. These large settlements are typically the result of catastrophic injuries, gross negligence, or intentional misconduct by the defendant. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest and multimillion-dollar personal injury settlements in U.S. history. We’ll examine the factors that contributed to these high payouts.

Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement – $206 Billion

The largest personal injury settlement in U.S. history is the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which resolved lawsuits brought by 46 states against the four largest tobacco companies  (Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, and Lorillard). The states alleged that the tobacco companies should compensate taxpayers for Medicaid costs spent treating smoking-related illnesses, and sought punitive damages for the companies’ unethical conduct in producing and marketing cigarettes.

The final settlement was worth $206 billion to be paid out over 25 years. In addition to the massive financial payout, the agreement also prohibited certain tobacco marketing practices and required the tobacco companies to disband their trade associations. The settlement funds were used by states to fund smoking cessation and prevention programs.

The tobacco settlement resulted in such a large payout due to the egregious conduct of the tobacco companies. For decades, the companies deliberately misled the public about the health risks of smoking. They marketed to children and suppressed evidence about the addictive nature of nicotine. The states proved the companies’ gross negligence and intentional misconduct. This proved that punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages for the public health costs of smoking, were justified.

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund – $7.1 Billion

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress created the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide financial assistance to victims and their families. The fund was reopened in 2011 after thousands of rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zero filed lawsuits alleging they had developed respiratory illnesses and cancers from exposure to toxic debris at the site.

In 2011, the City of New York agreed to pay $712.5 million to settle claims from 10,000 responders. The average award was around $1.8 million per severely ill plaintiff. The settlement paved the way for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. This act reopened the Victim Compensation Fund with $2.8 billion to provide ongoing care for 9/11 responders.

The 9/11 settlements resulted in large payouts due to the catastrophic injuries suffered by the responders. Many developed debilitating respiratory diseases and cancers from inhaling toxic dust at Ground Zero. The responders were young and had no preexisting conditions, so they had a long life expectancy with their injuries. The settlements aimed to compensate them for their pain and suffering, lost earnings, and lifetime medical expenses.

Pedestrian Struck by Bus – $85 Million

In 2018, a New York City man received $85 million in damages. He was run over and dragged by a double-decker sightseeing bus while crossing a Manhattan street. The 59-year-old victim suffered catastrophic injuries that left him permanently disabled and requiring leg braces to walk.

The $85 million settlement was the largest personal injury award in New York state history and the 25th largest in the U.S. in 2018. The award included compensation for the victim’s past and future pain and suffering as well as the cost of his lifetime medical care. This pedestrian accident settlement was so high because of the severity of the victim’s injuries.

A bus ran over and dragged the victim, causing catastrophic, permanently disabling injuries. These injuries will require lifelong medical care and assistance. The victim was young enough to have a long life expectancy with his injuries. The large settlement aimed to fully compensate him for his pain and suffering, lost earnings, and lifetime care needs.

Car Accident Spinal Injury – $71 Million

In 2017, a New York woman was awarded $71 million after suffering a spinal injury in a 2012 car accident. The 30-year-old victim sustained a fracture that caused a medical condition affecting her bowel movements. A Manhattan jury awarded her $11 million for past and future pain and suffering and $60 million for lifetime medical expenses.

This car accident settlement was so high due to the victim’s young age and the severity of her spinal cord injury. Spinal cord injuries are among the most catastrophic. This injury often leaving victims permanently disabled and requiring extensive medical care and assistance with daily living. The victim was only 30 years old at the time of the accident, so the settlement aimed to compensate her for a lifetime of pain and suffering and medical expenses.

Traumatic Brain Injury – $60 Million

In 2013, a New York court approved a $60 million settlement for a man who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. The settlement aims to cover the lifelong care needs of the victim, who was 13 years old at the time of the crash. Brain injuries are among the most catastrophic and expensive injuries. Also, often requiring around-the-clock medical care and assistance with daily living activities.

This brain injury settlement was so high because of the victim’s young age and the severity of his injuries. Traumatic brain injuries can cause permanent cognitive, physical, and emotional impairments that require lifelong care. The settlement aimed to compensate the 13-year-old victim for a lifetime of pain and suffering, lost earnings, and medical expenses. The goal was to address his long-term suffering and financial losses. His young age at the time of the accident meant he would face decades of consequences.

Failure to Diagnose Cancer – $12 Million

In 2019, the family of a New Jersey woman who died of lung cancer was awarded $12 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that doctors failed to properly follow up on an abnormal chest X-ray that showed a suspicious mass. This failure resulted in a delayed diagnosis and the woman’s death at age 48. The settlement was one of the largest medical malpractice awards in New Jersey history.

This medical malpractice settlement was so high due to the victim’s young age and the egregious conduct of the doctors. Failing to properly follow up on an abnormal test result that could indicate cancer is a clear deviation from the standard of care. The victim was only 48 years old when she died, leaving behind a family who depended on her.

The large settlement aimed to compensate her family for her lost future earnings. It also addressed the pain and suffering caused by her premature death due to medical negligence.

Factors Contributing to Large Settlements

There are several common factors that contribute to multimillion dollar personal injury settlements:

  • Catastrophic injuries – Settlements tend to be larger when the victim suffers debilitating, lifelong injuries like traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or severe burns. These injuries often require extensive medical treatment and assistive care for the rest of the victim’s life.
  • Young age of victim – Settlements are often higher when the injured victim is young, as they will have to live with the consequences of their injuries for a longer period of time. Juries are more likely to award higher amounts to make up for a longer lost earning capacity and life expectancy.
  • Gross negligence – Settlements can be inflated by punitive damages when the defendant’s conduct was especially egregious, such as intentional misconduct or a conscious disregard for safety. The tobacco companies’ conduct in the Master Settlement Agreement is a prime example.
  • Permanent disability – Settlements tend to be higher when the victim is left permanently disabled and unable to work or enjoy the same quality of life as before the accident. Juries want to ensure the victim has adequate funds for their lifelong care and lost earnings.
  • Dependent children – Settlements can be higher when the victim has children who relied on them for financial and emotional support. Juries want to ensure the children are provided for.
  • Preexisting conditions – Settlements are often lower if the victim had preexisting medical conditions that limited their life and earning capacity before the accident. The defendant will argue the accident did not substantially worsen their situation.


While multimillion dollar personal injury settlements make for sensational headlines, they are actually quite rare. Most personal injury cases settle for much more modest amounts, often under $100,000. Huge awards typically arise from cases involving catastrophic, permanently disabling injuries, gross negligence by the defendant, or a combination of these factors. These conditions justify a large payout.

Even when victims obtain multimillion-dollar judgments, appeals or post-trial motions often reduce the awards. Defendants will argue the award is excessive and disproportionate to the harm suffered. So while a record-breaking settlement may grab media attention, it does not necessarily mean the victim will walk away with millions of dollars.

Nonetheless, having an experienced personal injury attorney can help maximize the compensation a victim receives. A skilled lawyer will carefully document the victim’s losses. They will argue for the highest possible damages and fight to protect the award on appeal. Multimillion-dollar settlements may be uncommon. An attorney can help ensure that the victim receives full and fair compensation for their injuries to the greatest extent possible under the law.

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