A North Carolina jury determined that Hewlett-Packard Co. did not try to fool consumers into believing ink cartridges packed with its printers were full.
Similar class-action lawsuits have been filed in 34 states. In the first to go to trial, jurors deliberated for two-and-a-half hours Sept. 11 before rejecting the lawsuit brought by a Chapel Hill, N.C., man who claimed the company cheated customers by selling half-filled inkjet cartridges.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys accused the Palo Alto, Calif.-based computer maker of a scheme that would force consumers to buy replacement cartridges sooner. The lawsuit sought $11.5 million in damages on behalf of 223,706 North Carolinians who bought HP printers between Aug. 1, 1998, and Nov. 30, 2000.
The printer packaging did not mention the actual volume of ink included in the starter cartridges. But attorneys for Hewlett-Packard showed the jury brochures and packages that came inside the printer box that indicated the “economy” cartridges contained half the ink.
“HP is pleased with the decision and is confident that it will succeed on the merits in other states with copycat lawsuits on the same grounds,” HP spokeswoman Rebeca Robboy said.
HP, which no longer sells economy cartridges, sold three out of every five printers in the United States last year. Although the company is a top seller of notebook computers and servers, profit from printers and peripheral equipment–such as ink–frequently leads HP’s overall quarterly profit.
The jury found that HP disclosed adequate information about the cartridges enclosed with the printers, and that consumers did not have expectations that something else would be included.
During closing statements on Sept. 11, plaintiff’s attorney Richard McCune said since consumers only received half-filled cartridges, the true price of the printers was $20 to $40 higher than was advertised, depending on whether the printer contained one or two cartridges.
Bob Cooper, representing Hewlett-Packard, told jurors that HP was responding to competition by lowering the prices of its printers and including economy cartridges in the printer’s box.