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The Greatest Legal Underdogs of All Time

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The Greatest Legal Underdogs of All Time

In the land of litigation, money and influence are equal to might, but somtimes the underdog manages to pull a fast one over the legal heavyweights. Here we've highlighted six cases of little pups sticking it to the pooch when everything seemed lost and the odds were stacked against them.

Master Tobacco Settlement

Plaintiffs: 46 States' Attorney Generals
Defendants: Top 6 Tobacco Companies

The Attorney Generals filed suits under consumer protection and antitrust laws, seeking to recover smoking-related health care losses. Despite a lengthy process of appeals and shady deals, the plaintiffs won out, receiving a settlement of $206 billion paid over 25 years.

Exxon Mobil Valdez Spill

Plaintiffs: 2,000 cannery workers, fisherman, natives, land owners and others
Defendants: Exxon Mobil

The 1989 oil spill contaminated 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline with 11 million gallons of oil. The class action lawsuit sought punitive damages and interest for the thousands of people affected. Though $5 billion was initially awarded, Exxon Mobil appealed and ended up paying only 1/10 that amount: $500 million

AOL Time Warner

Plaintiffs: Shareholders
Defendants: AOL Time Warner

Between 1998 and 2002, AOL Time Warner misreported numerous advertising transactions, giving the appearance that the company was generating revenue. The money was, in fact, just being shifted around within the company. The misrepresentation valued the company by $1.7 billion more than its actual valuation. After the truth came out, stock prices took a dive. The case was settled for $2.5 billion.

Breast Implants

Plaintiffs: Thousands of North American Women
Defendants: Silicone implant manufacturers

The lawsuit came after multiple claims from women suffering autoimmune diseases from worn out and leaking breast implants. After multiple years of litigation, the defendents finally settled out of court for $3.4 billion. It was the largest class action suit of its time.

Nortel Networks

Plaintiffs: Shareholders
Defendants: Nortel Networks

Unable to survive the internet bust, the fiber-optic company fabricated accounting entries and falsified trends in equipment sales. Discovery of this fraud sent the stock spiraling downward from a high of $124 to $0.24, cost the shareholders enormous sums. The case was settled for $2.4 billion.

Hinkley Groundwater Contamination

Plaintiffs: Shareholders
Defendants: Pacific Gas and Electric

The defendent operated a compressor station in Hinkley as part of its natural gas transfer pipelines. A carcinogen called Hexavalent chromium was used to prevent rust in the machinery, eventually contaminating the town's groundwater and leading to an outbreak of illness among the residents. Erin Brockovich, a legal clerk with no formal training, investigated the illnesses and built a successful case against the defendant. The case was settled in amounts of $333 million, $295 million and $20 million.

Lago Agrio Oil Field

Plaintiffs: 30,000 Nueva Loja residents
Defendants: Texaco and parent company Chevron

Disregarding standard procedure, the oil company dumped toxic water into open pits rather than re-injecting it underground. This generated a 150% increase in local cancer rates and has also resulted soil-contamination, deforestation, and cultural upheaval in the area. The judgement was for $18 million.