Two Rapid City friends played a key role in a record-setting $1.1 billion settlement obtained recently from a successful lawsuit they helped file against 10 LCD flat-screen TV manufacturers over price-fixing allegations.
The massive class-action settlement that was years in the making provides an opportunity for cash settlements for people who bought certain flat-screen TVs or computer monitors over the past few years.
Rapid City attorney Eric Pickar and his client, Chris Bessette, do not expect huge personal gain from the settlement reached with electronics manufacturers AU Optronics, Chimei, Chunghwa, Epson, Hannstar, Hitachi, LG, Sharp, Samsung and Toshiba.
But they do expect that their efforts and diligence will help thousands of people qualify for a piece of the nation’s largest anti-trust consumer class action in history.
“That money is spread out all over the nation,” Pickar said Friday.
The settlement applies to LCD flat-screens used in computer monitors, televisions and laptop computers between 1999 and 2006.
Pickar, an attorney for Bangs, McCullen, Butler, Foy and Simmons, filed the lawsuit in federal court in South Dakota on Bessette’s behalf in February 2007. Bessette agreed to act as the representative for all affected individuals in South Dakota, Pickar said.
Lawyers and clients in 23 other states and the District of Columbia filed similar lawsuits. Those case were ultimately consolidated into one case heard by U.S. District Judge Susan Ilston of San Francisco.
The manufacturers in Taiwan, Korea and Japan conspired to inflate the prices of LCD monitors, Pickar said. The Asian manufactures held “crystal meetings” to agree on prices that were passed on to retailers, he said.
“They would get together and have these meetings where they would conspire to artificially raise the price of the LCD components,” Pickar said. “Sometimes, they would conspire to set the price at $65 more than it would normally go.”
Bessette, 28, bought a flat-screen product from a retailer between the years covered in the lawsuit, which qualified him to represent South Dakota consumers, Pickar said. Bessette was willing to commit the time necessary to the lawsuit, he said.
Over the past five years, Bessette was interviewed by attorneys and made a trip to California to prepare for the trial. A settlement was reached this summer before the cases went to court.
During one deposition, Bessette was asked how he felt about suing people he didn’t even know.
Bessette responded, “They didn’t worry about my feelings when they set the prices for my products.”
Bessette has no idea what, if any, direct financial gain he will get from the settlement. But just being involved in the case was an incredible experience, he said.
And it’s gratifying to know that he was part of something big, said Bessette, who works in telecommunications.
“Once I got more into the case and reading the files … it was incredible the level that it went to the heads of companies and the amount of money that was being made and lost,” Bessette said. “It was hard to believe.”
The Department of Justice criminally prosecuted many of the leaders of the companies involved in the price fixing, Pickar said. Those convicted have served or are serving prison sentences in United States prisons. “There were a lot of guilty pleas,” he said
“The best thing that can happen as a result of this case is that something like this will not happen again,” Bessette said.
Anyone who made a retail purchase of an LCD item between 1996 and 2006 can file a claim to share in the settlement. Consumers have until Dec. 6 to file a claim at www.LCDclass.com.
The court will decide how the settlement will be distributed, which is why it is important for individuals and businesses who bought the products or components from the companies to make a claim.
Proofs of purchase or receipts are not needed. Consumers will receive a check, not a credit slip, Pickar said. Typically, affected consumers will be eligible for up to $200, he said.
“It’s hard times right now; every little thing can help,” Bessette said.