CURRAN ANNOUNCES REBATE FOR CONSUMERS AS PART OF CONTACT LENS SETTLEMENT
Baltimore - Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. announced today that residents of Maryland who bought replacement contact lenses made by Johnson & Johnson Vision Products, Inc. ("Vistakon"), Bausch & Lomb ("B&L"), or CIBA Vision are eligible to receive a cash rebate and product benefits package under a proposed partial settlement of antitrust lawsuits filed by Maryland, 31 other states, and a national private consumer class. Lens wearers who bought replacement contact lenses from those three manufacturers at any time since January 1, 1988 are eligible to receive the rebate and benefits package if the settlement receives final court approval. Contact lens wearers may either call a toll-free number (888-811-0385) or log on to a special website (www.contactlenssettlement.com) to register for the benefits package, to object to or opt out of the settlement.
Attorney General Curran along with the Attorneys General of 31 other states filed suit in 1996, on behalf of contact lens wearers, in federal district court in Jacksonville, Florida against the American Optometric Association ("AOA"), Vistakon, B&L, CIBA, and individual optometrists for violating the antitrust laws. The lawsuit alleges that retail prices of replacement contact lenses were artificially high because Vistakon, B&L, and CIBA agreed with optometrists, acting through the AOA, that their lenses would be available to consumers only from eye care professionals and not through other outlets such as mail or phone order, the internet, pharmacies, and drug stores. In addition to restraints on sellers, the plaintiffs allege a restraint on patients that made it difficult for many consumers to get the prescriptions or other information needed to buy replacement lenses from these more convenient outlets. An estimated one in 10 Americans wear contact lenses.
A proposed settlement has been reached with one of the defendants, CIBA Vision. The settlement with CIBA includes: a $35.00 cash rebate to consumers on the future purchase of certain CIBA replacement lenses; a package of coupons for consumers for CIBA Vision products; a payment by CIBA of $5 million; and injunctive relief. Part of the $5 million fund paid for widespread newspaper ads about the pending lawsuits and the proposed partial settlement. As part of the settlement, CIBA has agreed to a court order barring it for five years from changing its current policy of selling its lenses directly to pharmacies and mail order firms for resale to consumers. Vistakon and B&L continue to restrict distribution and the pending lawsuits seek to stop the continuing restrictive policies of Vistakon and B&L.
January 31, 2001 is the deadline for a consumer to opt out of the lawsuits or the proposed settlement, to object to the proposed settlement, and/or to register for the benefits package. The final decision on whether to approve the settlement will be considered by the federal court at a hearing in Jacksonville on Tuesday, February 27, 2001 at 9:30 a.m. Maryland and all the other plaintiffs are continuing to prosecute the lawsuit against the AOA, Vistakon, B&L, and individual optometrists. Trial has been set for March 19, 2001 in Jacksonville.