December 8, 2023 | Carl Wyndham

Scandalous Facts About Class Action Lawsuits

"Class action lawsuits are an important part of our lawful system. All citizens should have the right to band together and settle grievances with bigger companies, but that system is broken and it needs fixing".—Thomas Carper. 

When a group of citizens bands together and uses their collective power to sue another party, usually a corporation or large organization, it is known as a class action lawsuit. Predominantly an American lawful action, class action lawsuits are a modern innovation which has shaped the way justice is served in the Western world. Allowing for groups of people to seek justice in a more economically and speedy way, in which not everyone needs to be present, class action suits continue to rise in popularity, despite their critics. So, how far have people taken this lawful endeavor? Keep reading to find out!

39. McLibel

The longest trial in British history occurred from a civil suit which has been dubbed the McLibel Trial. Two British vegetarians had passed around a leaflet with claims against McDonald's in the 1990s that the fast food company believed to be libelous. McDonald’s subsequently sued the two activists and would win their case. However, due to the nature of the case and its length, there was a media fiasco which embarrassed the company. Even though the judge ruled in their favor, he berated the company for their exploitative and damaging business practices.

class action lawsuit

38. Part II

Because every good show needs a sequel, there was actually a McLibel 2, and this time the activists won in the European Court of Human Rights! The second time around, the court ruled that the United Kingdom government had to pay the two activists compensation because the laws of the country did not properly protect citizens from the right to openly criticize large corporations.

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikipedia

37. Tech Battle

There is a currently an ongoing lawsuit between the two electronic titans Apple and Samsung, in which each is arguing over smartphone who has the rights to the patent designs. This lawful battle touches many different countries, at one point the two tech giants were battling in 50 different cases involving billions of dollars around the world.

Apple factsShutterstock

36. Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade was the landmark case that provided American women with the right to get an abortion. However, there was never actually a woman named Jane Roe. Instead, it was a lawful pseudonym used by Norma McCorvey in order to protect herself during the proceedings. After the decision was handed out, McCorvey stated that she sought the abortion because she was suffering from depression and was unemployable. She also claimed that she had actually been used as a pawn by ambitious, young lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington who were seeking a plaintiff that would allow them to challenge Texas' abortion laws.

1970s FactsWikimedia Commons, Lorie Shaull


35. Switching Sides

Years after Roe v. Wade changed the face of the United States by giving women more rights over their bodies, the woman behind it all recanted her position. Norma McCorvey converted to Roman Catholicism later in life and not only claimed she was no longer a lesbian, but began working as a pro-life activist.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

34. Tough Youth

When a 21-year-old Norma McCorvey got pregnant for the third time, she sought an abortion. She first attempted to claim that she was raped, in order to have it done under a Texas state exemption, but the plot failed. Sadly, she had actually been raped in her youth and gave birth to a child when she was just 18. She and her young child moved in with her mother at this time, but she soon fell into a deep depression and battled with alcoholism. Once, after she went to visit friends one weekend, she returned to find that her mother had replaced her child with a plastic doll and had reported her to the officers, saying that she had abandoned her baby. McCorvey's mother didn't allow her to see her child for months after this, before one day waking her up early one morning to sign some insurance papers. However, her mother, in fact, tricked her into signing over custody of the baby. As soon as the papers were signed, her mother kicked her out of the house.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

33. Super Bowl Slip

The Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show has gone down in television history for the Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake nipple slip, but some people weren’t happy. There were a couple of class action lawsuit cases that arose in the aftermath, as people claimed that the “sexually explicit acts” were damaging. The cases were eventually dropped because... seriously? It was only a moment.

The AOL TopSpeed Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show Produced by MTVGetty Images

32. Grand Theft Coffee

Take-Two Interactive, the company that owns the creator of the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series, is used to controversy. After the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, it was found that there was a modification in the game in which characters engage in sensual intercourse. Known as the “hot coffee” mod, as coffee was used as a euphemism for the crudely animated intercourse, parents in North America were outraged. Eventually, a class action suit was filed against Take-Two for consumer cheat, due to the hot coffee mod.

Class Action Lawsuits factsFlickr, Ryan Smith

31. Honorary Statue

Many politicians went after the producers of Grand Theft Auto because they failed to disclose the sensual content of the game. You know, the game already known for car theft, discharging sprees, and prostitution. For her role in the hot coffee mod scandal, Hillary Clinton made an appearance in the next Grand Theft Auto game, GTA IV. The makers of the game put her face on the Statue of Happiness (an allusion to the Statue of Liberty) and placed a cup of hot coffee in her hand in place of a torch.

Class Action Lawsuits factsFlickr, GillyBerlin


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30. Canadian Smokers

After awarding $15 billion to smokers from Quebec, the class action court case brought up against Imperial Tob.Canada, JTI-Macdonald Corp., and Rothmans Benson & Hedges—the three biggest cigar companies in Canada—went down in history as the largest sum ever won in Canada. This has inspired other provinces throughout the country to get together and sue large smoke companies.

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikimedia Commons


29. Internet For the Blind

A big step for the internet came with the National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp. class action suit in 2006. Claiming the inaccessibility of the large company's website for blind people was discriminatory, eventually, a deal was reached and since Target has engaged in a partnership with the NFB to further ensure the accessibility for the blind community on the internet.

Can't Shop There FactsWikimedia Commons, Kristiantiholov

28. Historic for Women

The first-ever sensual harassment class action suit was filed in 1988 against a mining company in Minnesota. After nine years of harassment, Lois Jensen finally filed an official complaint, only to have her tires slashed. The company then refused to pay punitive damages, which led to her taking the issue all the way up the court system. Sadly, she would be diagnosed with post-fear stress disorder from the harassment, but the suit proved to be a success—ten years later a settlement was finally reached for $3.5 million right before the trial was actually set to begin.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

27. Rooted in England

While the class action lawsuit is a modern American innovation, it was actually a lawful tactic used as far back as 1200 AD in medieval England. For about 200 years, this “group litigation” was even a normal occurrence, as often entire guilds, towns, or villages would join up and sue. Sometimes, entire these entire groups themselves were even sued.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

26. Class Action End

Though England seemed to be way ahead of the curve in terms of lawful advances, group litigation would start to fade away during the Wars of the Roses due to the utter confusion it brought, and became frozen during the time of the Star Chamber (an English court of law around the time of the Renaissance). By the time the mid 19th century rolled around, group litigation was basically extinct in the British lawful system.

Margaret Beaufort factsBritain

25. Rule 23

The original conception for modern class action suits came from the idea that grouped litigation that classes together the entirety of shareholders in a company could sue together as a way to get around direct government regulation of markets. It wasn’t until civil rights groups sprouted up in the 1960s, though, that these suits were written into law with Rule 23.

Paul Newman factsGetty Images

24. Suing the Church

It isn’t always a class that files the suit, as an entire class can also be sued. One such case took place during the Catholic priest woman-atack scandal in 2004 when the plaintiffs who claimed to have been sexually abused by priests sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. Every church parishioner of all of their churches was included in the defendant class. This was done in order to ensure that all the Archdiocese’s assets would be included if a settlement were to be required.

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikipedia


23. Bankrupt Church

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon is no small fish, as they make up the entire western portion of the state of Oregon and include 124 parishes. Due to the suit, the Catholic Archdiocese was forced to file for bankruptcy, becoming the first to do so in history.

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikipedia

22. Lawyer of the NFL

Perhaps the most famous lawyer associated with class action suits is Ted Wells. Well has represented political figures Eliot Spitzer and Scooter Libby as well as cigar. company Philip Morris, Johnson & Johnson and Citigroup (for whom he won $364.2 million). But perhaps his most famous cases have come over the past several years, as he had twice represented the NFL and was the lawyer behind the Deflategate scandal of 2015.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

21. The Importance of Free Speech

A leading figure in class action lawsuits, David Shapiro is a lawyer who first came to the public eye after he represented George Lincoln Rockwell—the leader of the American German Party—after being asked to do so by the American Civil Liberties Union. Shapiro was a Jew, and even though he was able to have Rockwell's case dismissed in an impressive 20 minutes, the German leader told him afterward: "Listen up, Jewboy, just because you got me off, that doesn’t do anything for you. Make sure you understand that I’ll watch as you and all the other Jews go to the gas chamber".

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

20. Massive Payout

One of the largest sums of money ever won in a class action suit was $7.12 billion from Enron. At one point listed by Forbes as the 7th largest company in the world, the collapse of Enron was a rapid one for the company that bought and sold energy.

Wall Street FactsFlickr,Hanne Therkildsen

19. Destroying Evidence

By hiding billions of dollars in debt through complex loopholes and the creation of entities, Enron had pressured their accounting firm to ignore what was found during auditing, resulting in one of the largest auditing failures in history. By the time things were finally falling apart, many employees began destroying documents and financial records.

Lawsuits factsFlickr, Lindsay Eyink

18. Beating Enron

When Enron went bankrupt, they had $63.4 billion in assets. This would be the largest corporate bankruptcy in history until only one year later when WorldCom went bankrupt with $107 billion in assets. Whereas Enron turned to complexity to hide their money, WorldCom kept it simple by cooking their books, inflating their net incoming by listing expenses under investments.

Wall Street FactsGetty Images


17. Bad Accounting

The same accounting firm working with Enron was also the accounting firm working with WorldCom—Arthur Andersen, LLP. These controversies resulted in the demise of the firm, which at one point was one of the “Big Five” accounting firms and one of the largest multinational corporations in the world.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

16. Taking Down Enron after Joe Camel

The lawyer that argued the Enron case was William Lerach. Leach was also the lawyer responsible for getting stopping the Joe Camel advertising campaign by cigar. company RJ Reynolds. Despite his contributions, he was sentenced to lock up for obstruction of justice in 2007 and disbarred from being a lawyer in 2009. He was involved in a class action suit kickback scheme that he then lied about being a part of while under oath in the court of law.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

15. Spygate

In 2008, the New England Patriots were facing a class action suit regarding their Super Bowl victory in 2002. Former St. Louis Rams safety Willie Gary—who was on the losing team in that Super Bowl—and their season ticket holders sued the Patriots for $100 million because the Patriots had been videotaping the Rams' practices leading up to the Super Bowl. The case was dropped, however, after the NFL hindered the case by refusing to cooperate. In a controversial move, the NFL commissioner even had the videotapes destroyed.

Antonio Brown factsWikimedia Commons

14. Asking For Payment

For many years, if a member of the United States Army was discovered to be gay, then they would be honorably discharged under the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Eventually, a class action suit was filed after a former Air Force Staff Sergeant found that his separation payment was half that of those discharged under different pretenses. The case would be successful, leading to 181 different ex-army man being paid about $13,000 each in back payment.

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikipedia

13. Recommendation Laws

Before medical marijuana was legalized, a class action suit was won that allowed doctors to at least recommend marijuana use in cases they deemed it healthy. This was a big step for doctor and patient rights, as it upholds that a patient should hear accurate information regardless of its legality.

Montgomery Clift factsShutterstock

12. Diamond Monopoly

For a long time, De Beers diamond company was able to fix the price of diamonds in the United States and essentially monopolize the market. This was until 2008 when a historic settlement was reached through a class action suit in which the company had to pay out $295 million to diamond purchasers and agree to an injunction which prohibits their attempt to fix prices and monopolize the supply of diamonds in the world.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

11. Banana Scandal

Chiquita Brands has been forced to pay a $25 million fine for their involvement in funding terrorism in Columbia. Though the company was based in Cincinnati at the time, from the 1970s to early 21st century, Chiquita was paying a terrorist organization to protect their most profitable farm operations throughout Columbia.

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikimedia Commons

10. Brown v. Board

In the 1950s, 13 parents from Topeka, Kansas filed a class action suit that became known as Brown v. Board of Education. The namesake of one parent, Oliver L. Brown was chosen to lead the case that attempted to overturn biased segregation in schools because the lawyers thought the best lawful strategy would be to have a man head the roster of plaintiffs.

Class Action Lawsuits factsGetty Images

9. Five Combined Cases

Though it is treated as if it was one case, Brown v. Board of Education Topeka was one of five different cases which were grouped together and brought to the Supreme Court. The other four cases that Brown v. Board represented were Briggs v. Elliott, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Gebhart v. Belton, and Boiling v. Sharpe. The cases were initially filed in South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, and Washington DC. Sadly, before these cases had reached the supreme court, only in Gebhart v. Belton did a judge find that segregation in schools amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Supreme Court of the United States FactsWikimedia Commons

8. Close Call

Brown v. Board is one of the most iconic supreme court cases in the history of the United States, but it almost went the other way. The Justices were on the fence about school segregation, and it took much work by Chief Justice Earl Warren to convince the other justices that they needed to come to a unanimous decision on such a monumental case.

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikipedia

7. End in the Court

Though he was the Chief Justice during the decision of the Brown v. Board case, Earl Warren actually was not the head justice when the Supreme Court initially took the suit. Fred M. Vinson was the sitting Chief Justice when the court decided to hear Brown v. Board, but he passed of a heart attack before it was heard. This is seen as a pivotal moment in the case, as Vinson was a conservative judge who thought that the government should not pass desegregation legislation as he, and the other dissenters, did not want to overturn the precedent of the day (the Plessy v. Segregation decision).

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikipedia

6. From Standing to Sitting

Thurgood Marshall was the man who argued the Brown v. Board case in front of the Supreme Court. Marshall, who was the chief counsel of the NAACP at the time, went on to become the first African-American judge to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

Supreme Court of the United States FactsFlickr

5. The Brockovich Crusade

The real-life Erin Brockovich was a driving force behind the Anderson v. Pacific Gas and Electric class action suit regarding the contamination of the groundwater in Hinkley, California. Around 370 million gallons of waste containing chromium 6 was knowingly spread around the water sources of the Mojave Desert town by Pacific Gas before Erin Brockovich began investigating the cluster of illnesses appearing in her community.

Lawsuits factsFlickr, Gage Skidmore

4. Continued Chromium

The Anderson v. Pacific Gas lawsuit was settled for a record $333 million in 1996, but the case stayed has stayed in the headlines over the years because the plume of contamination has continued to spread, molding Hinkley into a ghost town over the years. Chromium 6 has long been linked to cancer, and those claims are now supported by evidence. This has led the State of California to be the first to recognize the link between the chemical and cancer.

Class Action Lawsuits factsWikipedia

3. Role Reversal

Though she may have preferred Goldie Hawn to play her in the film, Erin Brockovich still showed up on set and had a small role in the Academy Award-winning movie about the scandal. She makes an appearance as a waitress who serves the character Erin Brockovich and is credited as playing the character of “Julia". I see what you did there, movie producers.

Class Action Lawsuits factsErin Brockovich (2000), Universal

2. Pant Anguish

Known as the “pants lawsuit,” the Pearson v. Chung civil suit is now a widely held example for why tort reform may be necessary in the United States. This is because Roy L. Pearson Jr. filed a suit for $67 million against the owners of a dry cleaner that had lost his pants. The money was apparently to make up for all the stress that was caused after the dry cleaner did not live up to their claim of “satisfaction guaranteed". Pearson himself was a lawyer and represented himself, and he was demanding the large sum of money in order to help other dissatisfied customers in the Washington DC area sue companies. He was so serious that he even broke down in tears in court. The judge didn't quite buy it, however, and he would lose the case.

Dave Bautista factsPicryl

1. The Doctors Role

It wasn’t until the Landeros v. Flood case of 1976 that doctors were encouraged to report child offense that they encountered. Previously, many doctors would simply turn a blind eye to offense, despite the fact that it was unlawful. This case made it so that doctors could be forced to pay damages if it was found that they refused to report evident offense. In this specific case, a doctor did not report the injuries of a child who was being abused by her parents and subsequently suffered more at their hands. Eventually, the officers were called in and the parents fled the state, before finally being detained.

Doctors awkwardUnsplash


Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5., 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11., 12., 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21., 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 

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