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Settlement Approved for Crest Toothpaste Buyers

(CN) - Procter & Gamble must refund hundreds of thousands of consumers who say they were deceived into buying Crest Sensitivity toothpaste in the last two years, a federal judge ruled.

Edward Rossi says he chose to buy Crest Sensitivity Treatment & Protection toothpaste over a less expensive one at a CVS store near his home in Bergen County, N.J., because the "New!" product's advertising and labeling allegedly promised "relief within minutes" and said it would "stop tooth pain, fast."

But those promises were false and unsubstantiated, Rossi claimed in a class action against the Procter & Gamble (P&G) in December 2011.

The stannous fluoride toothpaste is essentially identical to Crest Pro-Health, but for its slightly different coloring additive and price, according to the complaint. While a 4.2-ounce tube of the new bottle cost $6.99, the older product sold for $3.99.

P&G's marketing "tricks purchasers into paying a 75 percent price premium over comparable products that do not claim to provide rapid relief, but require weeks of use to reduce tooth sensitivity," Rossi said.

Rossi also claimed that the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division reported that "no competent and reliable scientific evidence" supports P&G's product descriptions.

Several other consumers filed related suits, and U.S. District Judge Jose Linares in Newark refused to dismiss Rossi's case in July 2012.

After the parties entered into a global settlement in January 2013, Linares conditionally certified the class and granted preliminary approval of the settlement.

Judge Linares issued final approval on Oct. 3, noting that the notice-program website had received more than 93,000 visits as of Aug. 19 with only one objection filed.

That objector did "not explain how or why he believes that class counsel has failed to sustain its burden of proof as to the Rule 23 requirements," the unpublished ruling states (emphasis in original). "Without providing reasons in support of his conclusory statement, this court is not in a position to assess - in any meaningful way - the merits of his argument."

The judge later added: "The absence of any meaningful objections, combined with the size of the class recovery, the sound notice program, and the real risks associated with taking this matter to trial all indicate that the settlement ought to be approved. The court therefore grants the motion for final approval of the settlement reached in this matter."

Every class member who submits a valid claim form will receive either the purchase price actually paid, or $4, according to the ruling. Eligible consumers include all persons in the United States who bought Crest Sensitivity toothpaste between February 2011 and March 2013.

Judge Linares separately awarded class counsel $700,000 in attorneys' fees and nearly $13,000 for out-of-pocket costs, plus $1,500 incentive awards to each named plaintiff.

The law firms Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello; Bursor & Fisher; and Faruqi & Faruqi were certified as class counsel.

Procter & Gamble, ranked No. 27 on the Fortune 500, reported about $84.17 billion in revenue in 2012-13.

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