Legal Lessons from World’s Longest Running Litigation: The Lawsuits of Christopher Columbus

To many, Columbus Day represents an empty mailbox, a parade and a day off from school; but to the heirs of Christopher Columbus, it’s a reminder of their involvement with the world’s longest running litigation: Pleitos Colombinos, or the Columbian Lawsuits. This suit, initiated in the early 1500’s, seeks to recover the riches Columbus felt were denied he and his heirs by the Spanish Crown. According to attorney Daniel Voelker, who has conducted extensive research on the case, it represents a treasure trove of guidance for those involved with contracts.

Columbus’ issues began with a contract drawn between himself, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, which would bring even Donald Trump and Warren Buffett to their knees. The royals agreed, in writing, known as the “Capitulations of Santa Fe,” to give Columbus and his heirs “ten percent of all the wealth he discovered and claimed for the Crown on his voyages made on their behalf” as well as land grants, extravagant titles and untold potential powers in the New World, in perpetuity.

“This contract would be valued at over $100 trillion in today’s currency and would have made Columbus’ family one of, if not the wealthiest, in recorded history. However Columbus fell out of favor and the Royal’s reneged on their agreement. Understand the position of the party that you’re contracting with and what constitutes stipulations for cancellation, with or without cause,” says attorney Daniel Voelker.

Columbus spent his final day’s poor and destitute, but with enough strength to gather supporters for litigation against the Crown. “It’s critical to document your facts when defending a contract. The litigation dragged on for three centuries and involved ten generations, with the Crown arguing that it was actually Martín Alonso Pinzón, the captain of the Pinta, who was the true Discoverer of the New World, not Columbus,” adds Voelker.

Voelker’s complete assessment and the story of the case can be found at: