Business

Farmers win class action

Hundreds of Washington vegetable and fruit growers may be entitled to money from a class-action lawsuit judgment against one of the world’s largest chemical companies.

It will cost the European company BASF $62.5 million to pay attorneys and reimburse farmers who bought the herbicide Poast from 1992-1996. The company’s U.S. division was the target of a New Jersey consumer fraud case for marking up the price of the herbicide for some farmers, and not others.

A group of farmers sued in Minnesota about 10 years ago. They grew sugarbeets, sunflowers, potatoes, field beans, fruits, vegetables and flowers.

The attorneys representing farmers estimate that between 500 and 1,000 Washington state farmers paid more for Poast than they should have and are owed money from the fund. According to calculations, only four states — led by California — had more farmers that bought Poast for inflated prices than Washington.

Farmers, according to a court-appointed claims handler, are encouraged to file claims by May 16. “This case will return money to farmers. It’s a big deal for them,” said Kristen Stallings, a spokeswoman for the claims handler.

The lawsuit, which took nine years to litigate, claimed that BASF Corp. fraudulently marketed the same herbicide as different products — Poast and Poast Plus — and charged different prices.

According to court records, BASF sold 965,427 gallons of Poast during the five years covered by the lawsuit.

If every farmer files a claim, it is estimated that they will receive a $33.15 reimbursement per gallon for the overcharge. If fewer farmers file claims, the money per participating farmer rises.

The settlement calls for attorneys — who argued twice before the U.S. Supreme Court — to earn about $29 million. Farmers will split the remaining $33 million.

In a court filing, class-action attorney Douglas Nill said the case sends a message to chemical companies that exploiting government regulations and defrauding consumers is wrong and costly.

“We’re not just getting money for the injured victimized farmers here,” said Nill, quoting one of the farmers in court documents, “We’re creating a greater public good.”

Staff writer John Stucke can be reached at (509) 459-5419 or by email at johnst@spokesman.com.



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