Sorry, Charlie: StarKist Must Compensate Consumers

petersburg illinois march 5 ...

Which is the best canned tuna? Chicken of the Sea, you say? For the next two months, at least, you might want to rethink that answer.

You see, class action litigation "settlement administration" firm Kurtzman Carson Consultants has recently begun alerting consumers of StarKist tuna to the settlement of a lawsuit against StarKist. It seems that from Feb.19, 2009 through Oct. 31, 2014, at least, the Korean-owned company that describes itself as the marketer of "America's favorite tuna" may have sold Americans a bit less tuna than was supposed to be contained in their 5-ounce cans.

According to a lawsuit filed in California back in February 2013, and since updated, StarKist "under-filled certain 5-ounce canned tuna products in violation of state and federal law." StarKist denies it did anything of the sort. But to make the lawsuit go away, StarKist has agreed to settle the plaintiffs' claims with the following proposition:

The Offer

StarKist will contribute $8 million in cash and $4 million in vouchers "redeemable for StarKist tuna products" into a settlement fund. Anyone who is willing to swear that they bought at least one can of StarKist tuna at any time between Feb. 19, 2009 through Oct. 31, 2014, can join the "class" of plaintiffs participating in this lawsuit-cum-settlement. As a member of that class, they will be entitled to claim from StarKist either:

  • a cash payment of $25, or

  • $50 in product vouchers redeemable for StarKist tuna products.

No proof of purchase need be produced. And it doesn't matter how much tuna you actually bought. All you need to do is state, under penalty of perjury, that within the dates mentioned above, you bought a (supposedly) 5-ounce can of StarKist:

  • Chunk light tuna in water,

  • Chunk light tuna in oil,

  • Solid white tuna in water, or

  • Solid white tuna in oil.

Voila. Do not pass "Go." Do collect $25 (or $50 worth of fish).

Catch of the Day

So what's the catch, you ask? Well, there are a few, but they're pretty small fry. First of all, to fish in this particular class action lawsuit, you must fill out a claim form detailing why you qualify to join the class and claiming your part of the settlement.

Second, you should hope that not too many of your friends and relations do the same thing. Because StarKist is only putting $12 million in this kitty. If more than 240,000 people try to sign up, then there's a chance the settlement will have to be divvied up "pro rata." (Essentially, this means that the more people sign up, the less compensation each individual plaintiff will receive.)

Also, if you're really ticked off about the too-little-tuna issue, to the extent that $50 worth of free fish won't assuage your hurt, you need to specifically ask to be excluded from the class of plaintiffs. Because once StarKist has paid out its $12 million -- that's it. Anyone who hasn't notified the court that they intend to sue StarKist separately will be legally forbidden from suing.

Oh, and the final catch? The real "catch of the day"? If $25 or $50 seems like a lot of compensation for getting a few ounces less tuna than you had bargained for, sit yourself down and prepare to hear how much the lawyers are asking to be paid on this lawsuit: As much as $4 million in legal fees.

That's the real whopper.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith loves tuna and if given his druthers will opt for the $50-worth-of-free-tuna settlement. He has no (other) financial interest in any company named above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

Originally published