Hitachi ponies up $3.5m for laptop battery rip-off

Joins Sony, LG and NEC, but Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo and Toshiba still fighting

Hitachi has agreed to pay $3.45m for its part in a massive price fixing conspiracy over lithium-ion batteries.

The proposed settlement [PDF] covers an eleven-year period from 2000 to 2011 when prosecutors claim a huge section of the laptop market, including Hitachi, Sony, NEC, Samsung, Sanyo and Toshiba, all agreed to overcharge consumers for new batteries. The same was true for batteries for power tools and camcorders.

The class action lawsuit alleges that the companies collectively agreed to limit their output to keep wholesale costs up and then control prices charged to consumers to rake in bigger profits. An estimated 16 million people were affected.

The case has been going on for four years and has put the value of price-fixing damages at just under $1bn (roughly $60 per person). The settlement that was agreed to in December and filed this week would, however, bring the total available for refund to just $65m after Sony settled for $19.5m, LG for $39m and NEC is offering $2.5m.

According to the settlement, Hitachi's offer is slightly more than estimated damages of $3.2m, and NEC's $2.5m is more than double its estimated damages of $1m. It is hoped the shortfall will be made up by pressuring the remaining companies – Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo and Toshiba – to settle.

As ever, the real winners will be the lawyers, who have spent four years litigating the case. During that time, more than eight million documents have been provided and read through, 25 depositions of just Hitachi and NEC people have been taken, and a long list of hearings and meetings have been billed to reach the settlement. The settlement itself is filing number 1,672 in the case.

When the case is finally settled, people who bought stand-alone laptop batteries from any of those companies will receive emails informing them of their win. Assuming, of course, they are still using the same email from over a decade ago and assuming they can prove the purchase. A victory for the common man! ®

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