Illinois and Indiana residents file four federal lawsuits against BP over tainted fuel

Bethany Krajelis Aug. 28, 2012, 11:44am

CHICAGO - At least four federal lawsuits have been filed against BP stemming from the company's recent fuel quality issue that caused car problems for some Midwestern motorists.

Filed late last week in federal courts in Illinois and Indiana, plaintiffs in all four suits seek class action status and recovery for the damage they claim was caused by tainted BP gasoline they purchased earlier this month.

BP on Aug, 20 announced that "approximately 200 retail outlets in Northwest Indiana and the Chicagoland area were supplied with off-specification regular-grade gasoline over the last seven days, along with 20 additional retail sites in the Milwaukee area that received off-specification premium gasoline."

The company on Aug. 23 said that it traced the problem to BP's Whiting, Ind. refinery and made changes to the plant's operations in order to bring the fuel produced there back within normal specifications.

The problem, according to the gas and oil giant, was created by a batch of fuel shipped from the Indiana fuel storage terminal that contained a higher than normal level of polymeric residue, which can cause hard starting and other drivability issues.

The first of the four known lawsuits was filed that same day in federal court in Chicago.

That suit, which was brought by Chicago resident Samantha Price, contends the cost to repair what it estimates to be "thousands" of affected vehicles exceeds $75,000.

The other three suits, one in Chicago and two in the federal court in Hammond, Ind., were filed on Aug. 24. These three suits claim the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million, noting that thousands of vehicles were affected and individual repair costs range from $300 to $1,200.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said his company doesn't comment on the specifics of pending litigation.

And while litigation is something most companies have to deal with at some point, he said BP is currently focused on taking care of its consumers.

He said his company, which set up a formal claims process about a week ago, has already started to process about 8,000 claims related to the fuel quality issue.

"BP fills 50 million gallons of gasoline every day and we stand by every single gallon we sell," he said. "We rarely have quality problems like this, but when we do, we take them seriously."

It is unclear from electronic court records when BP will have to respond to the four complaints.

The only documents filed in these four suits are the actual complaints, attorney appearances, motions to certify the proposed classes and in the case of the two Illinois cases, motions to consolidate.

Price contends in her lawsuit that she purchased fuel at a BP outlet in Hammond, Ind. on Aug. 16. She paid cash and did not get a receipt, her suit states.

The next morning, Price claims her Volkswagen Jetta would not start. She got a jump from a mechanic to bring her vehicle to the dealership, which the suits states provided some repair after running a computer diagnostic and download, as well as a 20,000 mile inspection.

Price asserts that her car again didn't start on Aug. 18. It was towed to her dealership and tested for "bad fuel" because by that time, her lawsuit claims news of the BP fuel problem was "widely-known."

After it discovered the fuel in Price's vehicle was contaminated, the dealership removed the fuel, put in new fuel and replaced a filter, the suit states, adding that Price's damages were $344 not including towing costs.

Price contends she called BP about the issue and was put on hold for more than one hour to provide her name and number. At the time she filed her suit on Aug. 23, Price claims she had not yet heard back from BP.

Her suit includes counts against BP for breach of implied warranty of merchantability, strict product liability, negligence, punitive damages and claims under the consumer fraud laws of Indiana, where she purchased the BP fuel at the crux of her complaint.

In her suit, Price defines the proposed class as "all consumers of BP Premium, Mid and Low Grade gasoline from the Whiting Indiana refinery from approximately August 13 to August 20, 2012, purchased in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin."

She asserts that her suit meets the requirements for class certification and asked that she be named class representative and that her lawyers at Krislov & Associates in Chicago be appointed lead counsel.

The other three suits filed against BP make similar factual allegations and requests regarding class certification, although some of them call for a class definition that includes motorists who purchased gas during longer time frames than the one proposed in Price's suit.

Attorneys at Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin in Chicago filed the suit brought by Illinois resident Natalie Fisher, who claims she traded her vehicle in after thinking it was failing only to later learn her car problems were caused by tainted BP fuel.

The two other known lawsuits against BP were brought by Indiana residents Natalie Custy and Mark Gonzales.

Custy's suit was filed by attorneys at Abrahamson, Reed & Bilse in Hammond, and the Indianapolis law firm of Price, Waicukauski & Riley.

Attorneys at Cohen & Malad in Indianapolis and Theodoros & Rooth in Merrillville filed Gonzales' suit.

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