What Happens to Unused Class Action Settlement Money?

Gavel and scales, by Flickr user "s_falkow", licensed via Creative CommonsWe often hear about bigtime class action settlements, the ones with millions of dollars set up in trusts and application processes to benefit from.  Like the $325 million Apple antenna lawsuit, or the recent $3 million Nutella settlement.  In these types of settlements, the number of people affected by them (the “class”) is unknown, so the settlement money is put into a fund and a time period is given in which class members can sign up to receive some of the money from that fund.  The total settlement award that we read about in the papers, however, is actually an upper bound.  That’s the limit — once it’s reached, it’s hard cheese for any more people who want to benefit.  Very rarely is the full amount given out.  More often, the upper bound is not reached and some money is left sitting in the trust.  What happens to this money?

Read more to see the answer to that clearly rhetorical question