* Vivendi lawyer says premature to discuss possible damages
* Vivendi would appeal if gets liable verdict - lawyer
* Class action suit verdict could come on Jan. 19 - report
* Witness estimated max. damages at $11.5 bln - report
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Jan 18 (Reuters) - A lawyer representing Vivendi (VIV.PA) in a class action suit filed by shareholders in 2002, which claimed they were misled about the media group’s financial condition, said Vivendi would appeal against any verdict of liability.
Herve Pisani told Reuters by phone that it was too early to say when a verdict would come in the New-York-based trial or to speculate on how much a guilty verdict, if this arose, could cost Vivendi.
He was reacting after the Financial Times said a jury verdict in the case could come as early as Tuesday.
The paper cited Arthur Abbey, the lead lawyer for the shareholders, as saying that an expert witness for the plaintiffs estimated the maximum total damages due to be about 8 billion euros ($11.51 billion).
The report hit Vivendi shares in early Monday trade, forcing them down nearly 3 percent, traders said.
The class-action lawsuit accuses the company, former Chief Executive Jean-Marie Messier and ex-Chief Financial Officer Guillaume Hannezo of hiding Vivendi’s true financial condition during an acquisition spree from 2000 to 2002.
The defendants are being sued by international investors for 57 breaches of U.S securities laws in a three-month trial which concluded last week.
“No-one can pretend to put a figure on the potential damages”, Pisani said, explaining that the jury ‘s ruling will be on whether the defendants are liable.
If the defendants are liable, total and final damages will only be assessed once it becomes clear how many plaintiffs decide to seek damages, he said.
“It is totally impossible to give an estimate of the potential damages under the scenario where Vivendi would lose (the case),” he said.
Vivendi “would appeal” against any verdict of liability, adding “maybe two years” to the legal action, he said.
Vivendi shares fell 2.88 percent at 20.04 euros at 1045 GMT, while the European media sector .SXMP fell 0.74 percent.
“Vivendi is down today from fears about the outcome of the U.S. class action suit, with potential damages higher than those that had initially circulated in the press,” said Charles Bedouelle, analyst at Exane BNP Paribas. (Additional reporting by Juliette Rouillon et Blaise Robinson in Paris; Editing by Sharon Lindores) ($1=.6949 Euro)