The 6 Biggest Civil Damage Claims Ever Made

In civil cases, a guy can certainly dream. And dream big. We’re not talking one hundred million dollar big, which is run of the mill, paltry even. Or $600 billion big, as in the amount thrown around in the Lehman bankruptcy. We’re talking trillions, decillions even. In our search for the biggest civil damage claims ever made in the U.S., we came up with an impressive short list. Not to say that any of the plaintiffs collected more than a dismissal, but some folks think big. If they think at all.

1$1.74 Trillion. Not a bad claim for a simple guy from Omaha. Seems that the plaintiff in Andrews v. Schatz was a bit ticked off about having a protective order vacated by a judge. So he sued the judge. To the tune of $1.74 trillion. The court did a nice job explaining judicial immunity and dismissing the suit. Unfortunately, there’s no discussion about how the plaintiff calculated his damages. Why the claim of $1.74 trillion and not something a bit more reasonable, say $1.2 trillion?

2$375 Trillion. In Heart Disease Research Foundation vs. GMC, plaintiffs claimed compensatory damages of 125 trillion dollars and, in one count, trebled that amount to 375 trillion. In 1972. Adjusted for today’s dollars, that’s a whopping $1.9 quadrillion. The claim? A class action on behalf of all 125 million Americans who were subject to pollution produced by cars.

3$400 Trillion. The plaintiff in Windsor v. Pan Am Airways claimed 400 trillion dollars in damages in a lawsuit that claimed Pan Am had committed “grand theft … with the intent to commit nuclear sabotage.” As the court explained:

Appellant alleges that Pan American Airways conspired with the family of President Kennedy and with President Carter to cause the crash of Flight 759. Appellant further alleged that President Carter had ‘illegally accumulated over 40 trillion dollars in assets — based on ideas [President Carter] had stolen from the plaintiff’s patents and copyrights on file in Washington, D.C.’ According to plaintiff, President Carter was joined in this grand theft scheme by Presidents Kennedy, Ford and Reagan. Inexplicably, Presidents Johnson and Nixon were implicitly exonerated from this presidential miscreancy.

Dismissed, but not without the court stating it was “a patently frivolous appeal.” Duh.

4$999 Quadrillion. Ahh, Mr. Ernest Dixon, who listed his address in court filings as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On one day in 2009, Mr. Dixon filed 99 pro se complaints. Four of the complaints sought $999 quadrillion in compensatory damages and an equal amount of punitive damages. All told, the four big claims added up to total amount of $3,996,000,000,000,000, or just about $4 quintillion. That’s enough to give every person on Earth a lump sum payment of more than $570,000. And that’s not including punitives.

5$999 Sextillion. In Johnson v. State of Hawaii, one aggrieved Johnson sued Hawaii, “Sheriff Leo,” and a few others in a Section 1983 claim, though one claim was for “Failure to Respond in Fraud-Waste-Abuse in Writ of Mandamus in re Matter of Police Brutality Violation of Checks and Balance of Legislative-Judicial Matters.” Johnson’s complaint actually sought 999 sextillion trillion dollars, which may be the most ever demanded in a complaint. But we’re giving Johnson the benefit of the doubt, thinking he was just a bit excited after writing sextillion that he, well, got carried away and added on another trillion for good measure.

6$239 Decillion.Though at heart it was a simple lost profits claim for $2.32 billion, plaintiff’s additional claim for lost “secondary profits” made the claim balloon. A buttload. If accurately compounded at the alleged weekly interest rate of 29 percent for 80 weeks, we’re talking 239 decillion bucks. As the court pointed out:

If one decillion (much less 239) dollars was divided among the Earth’s population, each person could receive a lump sum of 166 septillion dollars, or, without taking into account any annuity earnings, could receive 16 quintillion, 600 quadrillion dollars a year for one million years. In other words, these amounts of money are beyond meaningless. Plaintiff was correct that his alleged lost secondary profits were astronomical.

In fairness, plaintiff voluntarily limited his claim of secondary lost profits to $6.84 billion, generously agreeing not to compound the weekly interest and cutting it off four weeks early. Downright charitable.

Gregory Luce is the editor of Bitter Lawyer. He creates stuff and writes various columns, including Legal Crap My Kids Ask Me, Ask a Futurist, and Postcards from Lawyers.

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