Miami Drivers Sue Shell, Refiner Over Gas Guage Problems

MIAMI June 8, 2004; Cathrine Wilson writing for the AP reported that lawyers for motorists with broken gas gauges will seek more than $100 million in damages from Shell and its refiner Motiva Enterprises for repairs, insurance claims and lost time blamed on high-sulfur gasoline pumped in May.

The Florida Circuit Court suit estimates 1 million vehicle owners pumped defective gas supplied by the Shell-owned refinery before Shell and Texaco shut down about 400 stations just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The suit, filed Tuesday, is the second to be filed in Florida over the gas pulled from the market last month. The latest seeks class-action status to cover anyone damaged by the gas sold in Florida.

Karyn Leonardi, spokeswoman for Shell and Motiva, said the company had not yet seen the lawsuit and had no comment on it. But she said Shell "responded quickly and appropriately to minimize the impact on customers" by suspending sales and replacing defective gas.

The earlier suit was filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.

High sulfur levels can break gas gauges and make them read full when tanks are empty.

"In order to correct it, it costs anywhere from $400 to $1,000 per vehicle depending on the make and model," said attorney John Ruiz, who sued on behalf of three Miami gas purchasers.

The suit seeks money for the fuel, replacement parts, repair costs, rental cars used when vehicles were in for repairs, loss of the use of vehicles, towing charges and insurance deductibles. The suit also seeks future damages for any higher insurance premiums and any loss in vehicle resale values.

After the holiday, Shell said it had received about 15,000 calls from consumers in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana about the tainted gas. About 9,000 claims have been filed to fix faulty gas gauges in the three states.

On Tuesday, Shell released a list of 80 auto service centers in Florida where drivers may go for repairs and be reimbursed without an estimate.

Problem fuel turned up in shipments to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Sarasota and New Orleans.

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