If payback is sweet revenge, Minnesotans have hit the jackpot, albeit a modest one.
After illegally fixing prices for computer and TV screens a decade ago, nine LCD flat-screen manufacturers are now repaying $1.1 billion in cash to consumers and businesses in Minnesota, 23 other states and the District of Columbia as a result of the biggest antitrust settlement of its kind.
The LCD screen manufacturers agreed to settle the price-fixing claims out of court. (Plasma flat-screens are not covered by the settlement.)
"This is the King Kong of settlements," said Dan Shulman, an attorney at Minneapolis law firm Gray Plant Mooty, one of a dozen law firms that managed the case in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. "It is the biggest settlement our firm has ever gotten. This is enormous."
As a result of the settlement in the five-year-old case, the average consumer can probably collect $25 to $250 by submitting a list of how many LCD flat-screen laptops, computer monitors or TV sets he or she bought from 1999 to 2006, Shulman said. No receipts or other documents are required. The exact payout will depend on factors such as the size of the screen purchased and which company manufactured it.
Consumers can apply now to Gray Plant Mooty for cash that will likely be distributed late this year or in early 2013, following a federal court hearing to air any complaints about the settlement. Consumers can file a claim online at tinyurl.com/d295fj6, or call 612-632-3600.
The larger significance of the court case is that the $1.1 billion is the largest antitrust settlement ever for an "indirect purchaser case," a class-action suit on behalf of people who bought a product not from the original manufacturer but from intermediaries, Shulman said.
In this settlement, the intermediaries were sellers of computer and TV equipment, such as Best Buy or computer maker Dell. Shulman said the class-action settlement resulted from the consolidation of hundreds of individual lawsuits that were filed against the LCD manufacturers after the price-fixing was publicized.
The settlement covers the widely used TFT-LCD (thin-film transistor liquid crystal display) screens made by Japanese firms Hitachi, Sharp and Toshiba, Korean firms Samsung and LG Electronics and Taiwanese firms AU Optronics, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, HannStar Display Corp. and Chi Mei Optoelectronics.
However, not all of the $1.1 billion will go to consumers. As many as 100 law firms, including Gray Plant Mooty, are expected to collect around $300 million in legal fees that will be subtracted from the settlement pool, Shulman said.
That shouldn't hurt consumers because, while literally millions of Americans are eligible for a chunk of the settlement, usually no more than 10 percent of eligible people actually apply, Shulman said. That should leave plenty of cash for those who do apply, he said.
Steve Alexander 612-673-4553