Poland Spring Makes Lawsuit Deal

Poland Spring Water Co. has negotiated a proposed settlement for a class-action lawsuit alleging that its bottled water does not come from a spring and is not completely safe, reports Portland Press Herald writer Edward D. Murphy.

The settlement calls for Poland Spring to offer discounts or free water worth $8,050,000 over the next five years, contribute $2.75 million to charities during the same period and step up its monitoring of water quality. It also would pay the two lawyers involved in that case $1.35 million.

As part of the settlement, Poland Spring did not admit any of the allegations.

The settlement will still have to be approved by a judge in Kane County, Ill. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20.

The company also faces 10 other class-action lawsuits making similar claims. A lawyer who filed one of the lawsuits told Murphy the proposed agreement is "a collusive resolution" that would allow Poland Spring to settle all the complaints cheaply because the settlement might also apply to plaintiffs in the outstanding suits.

Each of the lawsuits contends that Poland Spring's water is not actually natural spring water because it is drawn from wells. However, federal rules established eight years ago allow a water bottler to call its product "spring water" if it's drawn from the same source as a natural spring and meets certain requirements for its chemical composition.

Most of the lawsuits also dispute Poland Spring's marketing efforts, particularly those that say the water is "naturally purified" and drawn from "deep in the woods of Maine" from "pristine and protected sources."

Kenneth Ramsey of Illinois filed his suit containing those allegations on July 29. His lawyers and the company reached the proposed settlement on Aug. 20.

The discounts outlined in the settlement are a tiny fraction of Poland Spring's income from sale of the water it bottles in Maine from sources in Poland Spring, Poland, Hollis and Fryeburg. The brand sold 220 million gallons of water worth $621 million last year, making it one of the largest players in the sale of bottled water. Overall sales worldwide reached $7.7 billion in 2002.

Portland Press Herald

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