03/26/2012 08:06 EDT | Updated 05/26/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadian car dealers launch class action against auto parts manufacturers

TORONTO - Two companies formerly owned by a retired Toronto-area auto dealer have launched three class-action lawsuits in Canada against several auto parts manufacturers, claiming they colluded to fix prices for nearly a decade.

The suits, which seek up to $700 million in compensation and damages on behalf of thousands of car dealers across Canada, follow US$748 million in criminal fines levied in the United States against some of the defendants' companies.

The Canadian class actions were filed with Sheridan Chevrolet Cadillac Ltd. and Pickering Auto Mall Ltd. as the lead plaintiffs. Both those companies were owned by Jerry Gazarek of Pickering, Ont., who is now retired.

The suits, which seek to be recognized as class actions, were announced Monday by the law firm handling the claims, which were filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice in previous weeks.

None of the allegations has been tested in court.

The first suit, filed on Feb. 27, is seeking up to $550 million in compensation and punitive damages from at least nine manufacturers of wire harnesses, including Furukawa and Yazaki of Japan and their U.S. subsidiaries.

The second suit, filed March 19, is primarily filed against Denso Corp. of Japan and seeks up to $100 million in compensation for allegedly conspiring to fix prices of electronic control units and heater control panels sold in Canada.

The third suit, also filed on March 19, seeks $50 million in compensation from Yazaki for allegedly conspiring to fix prices for fuel senders and instrument panel clusters sold in Canada.

The plaintiffs are being represented by Sotos LLP of Toronto.

Yazaki Corp. agreed in January to pay a US$470-million fine, the second-largest criminal fine ever obtained for an antitrust violation, and Denso Corp. agreed to a US$78-million fine.

In November, Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd. pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $200-million fine for its role in the wire harnesses price-fixing and bid-rigging conspiracy. Three Furukawa executives also pleaded guilty and are serving prison terms in the United States.

In addition to those companies, the Canadian wire harness class-action lawsuit names a number of other plaintiffs including Delphi Automotive of Troy, Mich., Furikura of Japan, Lear Corp of Southfield, Mich., Leonlag of Nuremberg, Germany and Sumitomo Electric Industries of Tokyo.