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Monitor makers settle over size

A settlement between roughly 30 computer makers and consumers over the real size of computer monitors is headed for a final hearing.

When Keith Long unpacked his new Packard Bell computer monitor in September of 1993, there was one thing missing. An inch.

He said the monitor screen, advertised as 14 inches measured diagonally, was closer to 13 inches. The resulting legal battle between consumers across the country and monitor manufacturers is about to get its final resolution when a settlement with approximately thirty computer companies reaches a final hearing on June 30.

The class-action suit settlement may net approximately 40 million monitor consumers a rebate of $13 each on their next computer purchase, or $6 in cash when the three-year rebate offer expires.

"The potential value of [the settlement] well exceeds $100 million," said Steve White, a lawyer at Kronick, Moskovitz, Tidemann, and Girard, who represents Long.

According to the plaintiffs, monitor screens are on average 17 percent, and as much as 30 percent, smaller than advertised. Defendants argued that the screens are sized as advertised, but said that part of the screen is obscured by the monitor bezel, or the front part of the plastic cabinet. Monitor makers refer to the screen area that isn't obscured as the "viewable area" in their ads.

Long's class-action lawsuit is in fact one of about a dozen similar cases that currently are reaching their second collective settlement.

A first settlement, negotiated by the California Attorney General's Office, ended in the computer companies giving the California public schools $1.5 million and remunerating the Merced District Attorney's Office $200,000 in costs.

Those fines were paid by a group of monitor makers that included Apple Computer, Compaq Computer, IBM, Packard Bell, Samsung, and Tandy.

But Long and his attorneys, dissatisfied with an award that did not compensate consumers directly, continued to press their case. A San Francisco Superior Court judge threw out the suit, ruling that it had already been adjudicated. But still Long fought on, promising to appeal the judge's decision.

Instead of continuing to squabble in the courts, approximately thirty computer companies last month decided to join the second settlement, which is scheduled for a final hearing on June 30.

The period covered by the suit is May 1, 1991 to May 1, 1995.

Hewlett-Packard and Wal-Mart, on the other hand, have refused to join the settlement, and Long will continue to press his lawsuit against those companies in San Francisco Superior Court.

An informational Web site has been posted for consumers covered by the class-action suit.