Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay up to $860 million to settle a lawsuit that the company told consumers to throw out disposable contact lenses after one day while they could have been worn up to two weeks.
The lawsuit claimed that J&J's Acuvue and 1-Day Acuvue lenses are the same product, though 1-Day Acuvue costs much less than the two-week version. The lawsuit filed in state Superior Court in 1996 estimated that 6 million people who use contact lenses spent $1.1 billion since 1994 on lenses because of misleading advertising.
Jeff Leebaw, a company spokesman, said the company agreed to settle the lawsuit to put the matter behind it. The company has agreed to remove the words "disposable" and "for single use" from the 1-Day Acuvue packaging.
Jay Eisendorfer, a lawyer representing consumers in the class-action lawsuit, said "Johnson & Johnson, despite having one of the most prestigious names in the consumer products business, went far astray in this situation and allowed marketing people to get the better of the organization's ethical creed."
Leebaw said the company had always been "straightforward about its lenses" and criticized Eisendorfer for discussing the proposed settlement before its hearing, scheduled for Friday.
"His slurs against this company are an insult to the sensibilities of any fair-minded review of this case," Leebaw saidy.
If Superior Court Judge John Fratto agrees to the settlement after a hearing on Friday, Johnson & Johnson would be required to advertise on the Internet and with toll-free telephone numbers to tell consumers how to apply for compensation.
Leebaw said the $860 million figure would be the upper limit of the settlement, "if everybody absolutely pursued compensation in this thing." He said the company expects the actual amount paid out will be much less.
Shares of J&J closed down 50 cents to $93.95 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
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