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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- BP, Casey's General Stores, Chevron, Circle K, CITGO, ConocoPhillips, 7-Eleven, Shell Oil, Valero, Kum & Go, QuikTrip and Walmart have all been named as defendants in two class-action lawsuits against the practice of "hot fuel" in the state of Kansas.
The two suits are the first in the nation to receive class-action status, according to The Kansas City Star.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil in Kansas City, Kan., ruled the two suits meet the standards to represent not just the few individuals named in the suits, but other, unnamed consumers allegedly affected by the hot-fuel practice, according to the report.
Hot fuel refers to selling gasoline above the industry standard of 60 degrees without adjusting the volume of a gallon of fuel. This practice reduces the amount of energy the fuel contains. In a series of stories in 2006, The Kansas City Star estimated hot fuel cost consumers $2.3 billion annually.
The certification of class-action status does not deal with the merits of the cases, but merely allows them to proceed. The judge's ruling could trigger discussions to settle the case.
George Zelcs, attorney at Korein Tillery in Chicago, told the Star the Kansas cases were considered a "bellwether" signaling how other hot-fuel suits also seeking class-action status could be decided.
Attorneys for the defendants said they had not decided whether to file an appeal of the judge's ruling. They were pleased that the certification in Vratil's ruling was limited to liability and injunctive relief (such as a fix for hot fuel) and not for damages that defendants have argued are difficult to peg, according to the report. However, the judge said that if plaintiffs prevail in the liability and injunctive portions of their claims, she would consider whether to certify a class for damages.
It also recognizes that it is an open question as to whether consumers receive a net benefit at all from the use of ATC," said Martin Loring, attorney at Husch Blackwell Sanders in Kansas City, referring to the automatic adjustment to the volume of a gallon of gas to account for temperature differences.