Attorneys who represented consumers in “hot fuel” class-action cases — contending overcharges for gasoline that expands in the heat — should receive $18.9 million for their legal work, a federal judge in Kansas ruled this week.
The decision comes after earlier still-contested settlements in the case, where some companies agreed in early 2015 to give station owners $23 million to fix their fuel pumps to prevent the overcharging and other companies pledged to spend money directly on new devices that account for temperature changes.
Class-action cases surrounding the hot fuel phenomenon sprang from reporting by The Kansas City Star in 2006. Those stories revealed that gas stations charged the same amount for gasoline regardless of the temperature at which it was sold. When temperatures rise, gasoline expands. So a gallon sold at, say, 90 degrees contains less energy than a gallon sold at 60 degrees.
The industry has long accounted for how temperature changes the value of gasoline by volume at the wholesale level. The result of the class-action suits is that the 28 companies that were sued, and that settled, agreed to make adjustments at the pump.
Yet in a case against QuikTrip, 7-Eleven and Kum & Go, companies that did not agree to a settlement, a jury in 2012 found that the practice of selling without adjusting for temperature did not violate the Kansas Consumer Protection Act.
Bob Horn, whose Kansas City law firm Horn Aylward & Bandy was named lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said the attorneys fees approved by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil on Tuesday only cover a portion of the actual legal costs. And, he said, it will almost certainly be appealed.
Meanwhile, some of the multiple defendants and plaintiffs in the case have appealed the court’s OK of the settlement reached in 2015.
“This case involved a number of different states and different defendants and has been going on for almost 10 years,” Horn said. “It’ll be a long time before anybody sees any money, if at all.”