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Archive for Saturday, October 17, 2009

Court consolidates propane tank lawsuits

Companies charged with deceiving buyers of refilled barbecue grill canisters

October 17, 2009

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— A federal judge in Missouri will oversee a series of lawsuits claiming two propane tank sellers deceived consumers when they reduced the amount of fuel in their reusable backyard grill canisters but didn’t change the price or alert buyers to the change.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation earlier this month ordered five cases filed in Missouri, Kansas and California be heard by U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner in Kansas City. In the order, it said the defendants, AmeriGas Partners Inc. and Ferrellgas Partners LP, indicated another 14 lawsuits may be added later.

The panel said it chose Fenner because he is already presiding over one of the lawsuits and one of the defendants, Ferrellgas Partners LP, is based in nearby Overland Park, Kan.

Consolidating cases is common when the lawsuits make similar claims as it can save defendants and plaintiffs the cost and time of duplicating work in courts across the country.

The suits were filed earlier this year by people who said they bought propane fuel canisters from AmeriGas Partners Inc. or Ferrellgas, which sells under the Blue Rhino brand, and didn’t realize until later they had received less fuel than they thought.

The industry has typically sold the 20-pound tanks with 17 or 18 pounds of fuel, leaving the rest empty as a safety precaution.

Last year, the companies quietly reduced the amount to 15 pounds as oil prices surged.

The suits accuse the two companies of violating consumer protection laws in three dozen states and the District of Columbia.

Officials for the two companies have defended their actions, saying the canisters’ labels clearly indicate how much fuel they contain. However, they have been concerned about the public relations fallout of the change.

AmeriGas, based in Valley Forge, Pa., this summer on its Web site began offering customers a $2.50 mail-in rebate and said it would make the stickers, banners and information cards at retailers more noticeable.

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