At least 15,000 purchasers of chewing tobacco in Massachusetts could be eligible for a piece of a $10.65 million class action settlement with U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., according to a lawyer for plaintiffs who sued the company.
The plaintiffs’ legal team, which had alleged that UST artificially inflated the cost of chewing tobacco through its large market share, has launched a Web site to explain to consumers how they can access their share of the settlement.
Frequent purchasers of chewing tobacco could be eligible to get up to $700 depending on how many UST products – which include the Copenhagen and Skoal brands – they purchased from Jan. 1, 1990, through May 21. Infrequent purchasers could get $25 to $100.
Robert Bonsignore, one of the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs, said he was initially approached by chewing-tobacco users about filing a lawsuit after Conwood, a competitor of UST’s, had made similar claims against the company. The suit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court in 2001, and was one of several similar class action suits across the country, Bonsignore said.
Both sides in the Massachusetts fight eventually reached an agreement. That settlement was approved on May 22 by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Stephen Neel.
“They fought it hard for a lot of years,” Bonsignore said of U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, which is now part of Altria Group. “Both sides understood there were great risks (with moving forward with the case, so) we sat down and tried to come to a fair and reasonable settlement.”
A portion of the settlement amount will be used to pay the plaintiffs’ legal costs. Any funds that are left over would be contributed through court-approved donations to charities that haven’t been named yet.
Information about the settlement can be found at www.massachusettssmokelesstobaccosettlement.com