Panasonic Corp. has agreed to pay $17.1 million to settle a putative class action brought by car buyers who claimed the company conspired with others to fix prices of switches, steering angle sensors and automotive high intensity discharge ballasts. The Plaintiffs informed a Michigan federal court of the settlement last month. The indirect buyers, or end-payors, said they bought vehicles in the U.S. that contained parts made or sold by Japan-based Panasonic and claim it conspired with other parts makers, including Tokai Rika, Co. Ltd., DENSO Corp. and Ichikoh Industries Ltd., to set prices and sell the parts to auto manufacturers at noncompetitive rates.
The terms of the settlement, agreed to in late February, call for the switches class to receive approximately $5.3 million, the steering angle sensors class to receive about $6.3 million and the HID ballasts class to receive approximately $5.5 million. As part of the proposed settlement, Panasonic agreed to provide Plaintiffs with witness interviews and depositions, documents and other information relating to the cases against the remaining Defendants.
The switches, steering angle sensors and HID ballasts cases are part of a sprawling multidistrict litigation (MDL) that followed the U.S. Department of Justice’s own expensive, ongoing investigation into the auto parts industry that has already yielded more than $2 billion in fines. The MDL — known as In Re: Automotive Parts Antitrust Litigation — has been split into separate proceedings for different automotive parts, which also include occupant safety restraints and automotive wire harnesses. In 2013, Panasonic agreed to pay $45.8 million to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to settle criminal charges of alleged bid rigging of the aforementioned auto parts. It was said that the settlement will help protect American consumers in the future.