Anheuser-Busch agreed to pay at least $120 million in cash to the family of former home run king Roger Maris as part of a settlement that ended a defamation trial and other litigation, according to an SEC filing the brewer made Wednesday.
The St. Louis-based company will record a $105 million pretax charge in the third quarter ending Sept. 30 as a result of the settlement with the Maris family owned beer distributorship, Maris Distributing Co., according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Anheuser-Busch spokesman Rick Oleshak said he couldn’t comment. But a spokesman for the Maris family’s attorneys said the actual settlement was higher.
“That is only part of the settlement,” said Tom McNicholas. “It’s nowhere near the totality of the agreement between the Maris family and Anheuser-Busch “
McNicholas wouldn’t comment further, nor say what percentage of the settlement would go to attorneys.
The settlement encompasses the defamation lawsuit and a $50 million jury award that the Marises had won against the nation’s largest brewer in 2001 for ending their beer distributorship contract in 1997. That award had been tied up on appeal.
Based on the filing, Tom Leritz, an analyst with Argent Capital in St. Louis said, “I don’t think it’s going to negatively impact the company.”
The agreement was announced Tuesday as a Gainesville jury reached a verdict in the three-week trial after two days of deliberations. The verdict was immediately sealed, but jurors later said they had decided to award the Maris family compensatory damages but not punitive damages.
Reached by telephone on Wednesday, juror Mabel Johnson said the jury’s award was between $90 million and $100 million.
“I’m really happy for them. I’m really happy that we didn’t have to say,” Johnson, 50, a layaway manager at Wal-Mart, said of the Maris family.
Neither side disclosed terms of the settlement Tuesday, but the Maris family had been seeking $250 million in compensatory damages and up to $5 billion in punitive damages.
Maris’ relatives accused the brewer of defamation after company officials publicly said the family’s distributorship was deficient and sold repackaged, out-of-date beer. The family claimed in court that the brewer plotted to destroy their reputation as a part of a larger scheme to seize the best-performing distributors for Busch family relatives and friends. Anheuser-Busch denied the allegation.
“The resident smart person down at Anheuser finally said ’Enough,”’ said Juli Niemann, an analyst with RT Jones in St. Louis. “It shouldn’t have happened and now it has come to an end, so I’m sure they’re all collectively breathing a sigh of relief.”
The legal fight between Anheuser-Busch and the Maris family had consumed eight years, three trials and millions of dollars in legal fees. The company had given Roger Maris and his brother, Rudy, the distributorship after the slugger ended his career in 1968 with the St. Louis Cardinals, which it then owned.
Roger Maris, who died in 1985, held the single-season home run record for 37 years after he hit 61 in 1961 for the New York Yankees. He was traded to the Cardinals after the 1966 season, helping St. Louis to the 1967 World Series title and the 1968 National League pennant.