A 10-year legal battle has resulted in a $17-million out-of-court settlement between a group of Eastern Township motorists and a number of gas retailers in the area.

The class-action lawsuit involving residents of Sherbrooke, Magog, Victoriaville and Thetford Mines sought damages from a so-called cartel charged with criminal price fixing by the Competition Bureau.

In 2008 and 2010, the bureau charged 39 individuals and 15 gas retailers with fixing the price of gas in those four cities and towns after a three-year investigation involving wiretaps and searches.

The bureau said the gas retailers — individual operators who ran their stations under the banners of Shell, Esso, Petro-Canada and Irving Oil — called each other to agree on prices.

Around $40 in free gas

The $17-million settlement, which two-thirds of the companies and retailers named in the class-action lawsuit have agreed to, could translate into a reimbursement of about $40 each for 200,000 residents after legal fees and other deductions.

"By the standards of a class action, that's actually relatively significant on an individual level," said George Iny, executive director of the Automobile Protection Association, the group spearheading the lawsuit.

"The settlement today is a very big step forward in the action. It's a very tough battle."

The money may be paid in gas cards, direct mailers, or money off at the pump, Iny said. 

Companies must reimburse at least 90 per cent of the affected consumers within about two years, or else the balance of the settlement will be paid out to the APA.

Since not all parties have agreed to the settlement, legal proceedings will continue.

With files from Radio-Canada and Matt D'Amours