SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In the largest antitrust class action settlement in history, consumers in eight states will collect $539 million from seven manufacturers of liquid crystal display flat screens that allegedly conspired to fix the price of TV and computer LCD panels.
"The settlement is the largest ever in a price fixing case brought by consumers," said Joseph Alioto, co-lead counsel for the California plaintiffs. "But we're not finished. We still have three other defendants."
LG, Toshiba and AU Optronics face a criminal trial in San Francisco Superior Court that is expected to begin in April 2012. "We are claiming actual damages of $2 billion, and if the jury finds they violated the law, under the law the amount will be trebled to $6 billion," Alioto said.
The settling companies include Chimei Innolux, Chi Mei Optoelectronics USA, Chi Mei Optoelectronics Japan, HannStar Display, Hitachi, Hitachi Displays, Hitachi Electronic Devices, Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electronics America, Samsung Semiconductor, Sharp and Sharp Electronics.
Alioto said the defendants both colluded to fix the prices of LCD panels and actively tried to cover up their conspiracy.
"The defendants, these thieves, are some of the most powerful consumer electronic companies in the world," Alioto said. "Unless and until they are convinced that price-fixing doesn't pay, they will continue to do it. They pay more attention to the payment of the money than they do sending a surrogate to jail who is willing to take the time to go to jail for the company. It's a money issue. It's got to be made unprofitable."
California consumers and government entities who bought laptops, monitors or TVs from 1999 to 2006 are expected to receive the bulk of the settlement, and Alioto said his office is "trying to distribute the money as effectively as we can."
"What we are trying to do is make the process of recovery simple and easy with enough incentive that people will attempt to do what they have to do to get paid for it," he added.
Alioto hopes fair distribution of the settlement money will redeem the class-action process, which he says has been unfairly maligned in recent years.
"We want to re-establish the credibility of class actions," Alioto said. "They have come under attack under the grounds that victims don't get recompense and that they are a way for lawyers to make a lot of money. Unless they receive compensation from the price fixers the purpose of class action is not achieved."
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston will hold a hearing on Jan. 20, 2012 for a preliminary approval of the settlement.
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