KANSAS CITY, Kan. —A federal judge in Kansas City has granted class-action status to two lawsuits claiming companies are shortchanging customers by selling them "hot fuel."
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil's ruling does not deal with the merits of the lawsuits, which were filed in 2007 after the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided to centralize dozens of such suits filed by consumers in 26 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam, in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.
The lawsuits focus on the oil industry's practice of pricing gasoline on a standard of 60 degrees. As temperatures rise above that, gasoline expands and consumers get less fuel per gallon.
Vratil ruled May 28 that the two lawsuits met the standards to represent consumers beyond those named in the suit who are affected by the sale of hot fuel, the Kansas City Star reported.
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The judge's ruling allows the cases to continue and could also spark discussions about potential settlements.
"It's a great order, frankly," said Bob Horn, a Kansas City attorney.
Defendants include several gasoline retailers, including BP, Casey's General Stores, Chevron, Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven and others.
Attorneys for the defendants said they are disappointed in parts of Vratil's ruling, but aren't sure yet whether they will appeal. They said they are glad the ruling was limited to liability and injunctive relief, and not for damages they said would be hard to pin down.
"It also recognizes that it is an open question as to whether consumers receive a net benefit at all from the use of ATC," Kansas City attorney Martin Loring said, referring to the automatic adjustment to the volume of a gallon of gas to account for temperature.
The industry uses temperature-adjusting technology at every step of fuel sales except retail. In Canada, many companies use temperature-adjusted pumps because when temperatures fall below 60 degrees, consumers get more for their money.
Vratil said that if plaintiffs prevail in their liability and injunctive claims, she would consider whether to certify a class for damages.
Chicago attorney George Zelcs said the Kansas cases are a bellwether that could signal how other hot-fuel suits that also seek class-action status could be decided.