Hawaii District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi signed off on a proposed settlement involving food giant Cargill this month, who had been sued over the marketing of their Truvia sweeteners. Three different plaintiffs had individually sued the company, and their claims were consolidated and transferred to Hawaii federal court for resolution. The lawsuits claims that Cargill’s use of the words “all-natural” in their marketing was misleading. Their packaging contained prominent usage of terms like “Nature’s Calorie-free Sweetener” and “Truvia sweetener comes from nature”, terms that the lawsuits claim misled customers into believing Truvia contained only natural ingredients and no lab-created chemicals. In reality, the sweetening product contained multiple artificial and synthetic chemicals, and the extraction process uses additional chemicals. Cargill has agreed to pay out $6.1 million in payments to claims by eligible class consumers, as well as $1.8 million in attorney’s fees and incentive awards to the plaintiff’s legal counsel and class representatives.
Cases like these represent a growing class of mass tort legal actions, where consumers who were not physically harmed by a product, but rather misled by a product’s marketing, are banding together in certified classes to seek legal compensation for being “tricked” by a product’s claims or marketing materials. in contrast to typical physical injury class action lawsuits, there is no actual physical harm or death, only a claim that the false marketing either fooled a consumer into purchasing a product they would not have otherwise purchased, or paid more for a product because of promised benefits than they would have if the product’s claims were accurate. Typically such cases are filed in state court, but the Hawaiian federal court consolidation represents a departure from that general approach.
“The parties only reached this settlement after conducting significant settlement-related discovery and engaging in extensive arm’s-length negotiations, including three mediation sessions…and multiple in-person settlement conferences with all plaintiffs, amounting to almost one year of settlement negotiations,” according to language in the settlement document. The settlement agreement allows for affected consumers to recover either a cash reimbursement between $7.50 and $45.00, or product vouchers valued between $18 and $90.The claim form deadline is December 5th ,2014, a remarkably quick resolution considering the lawsuits were initially filed in mid-2013. Cargill has also agreed to make changes to their labeling and add language to the Truvia website. More information about the case and similar ones is available from ClassActionAttorneys, and claim forms can be filled out here.