Should You Purchase Your Gasoline on Cooler Days?

Class Action Litigation, North America

A multi-district class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of motor gasoline consumers against retailers over temperature-induced variations in product quality that resulted in alleged overcharges. Baker & O'Brien described the fuel manufacturing process and opined on temperature as a factor. We provided an expert report and testified at the trial.

When consumers purchase gasoline or diesel fuel at retail service stations, they pay by the gallon. However, because these products are a complex and varying mixture of hydrocarbons, the amount of energy contained in any particular gallon-which determines how far you can drive on that gallon-can vary somewhat based on each gallon's unique chemical composition. Another factor that affects a gallon's energy content is the ambient temperature. Like any fluid, gasoline and diesel fuel expand or contract with temperature. For example, a gallon delivered at 75F will contain about 1% less energy than the same gallon delivered at 60F. When large quantities of these products are purchased or sold in the oil industry, the volumes are typically temperature corrected to a standard 60F. However, such temperature correction has never been widely applied to the much smaller volumes sold to consumers at retail service stations.

A number of class action lawsuits were filed representing consumers who purchased gasoline in predominantly southern states where yearly average temperatures are typically higher than the standard 60F-alleging that they had been deceived and overcharged based on the varying energy content in each gallon. The action was ultimately converted into a multi-district litigation.

Baker & O'Brien was engaged to serve as expert witness in the litigation. Our primary task was to explain how the manufacturing process for gasoline and diesel fuel necessarily produces motor fuels with varying energy content, and how much variation typically occurs. We also explained how it would be virtually impossible to produce motor fuels having a constant energy content and still meet consumer demand, and why even temperature correction at the service station level would not ensure that consumers always received the same energy content in each gallon. Finally, we provided evidence showing that in locations where temperatures average less than 60F, consumers would actually be slightly disadvantaged by retail temperature correction. Three expert reports were submitted over a 3-year period and testimony was provided in one federal jury trial.

Aaron J. Imrie

Vice President, Dallas Office Manager

Petroleum Refining / Transportation and Storage
Standard of Care / Commercial Contracts / Expert Witness Testimony / Product Quality
North America