Class-action suit filed against leading propane tank providers

Class-action suit filed against leading propane tank providers
A class-action lawsuit filed this month accuses leading propane tank providers of conspiring to reduce the amount of propane in the tanks and failing to inform customers.

When energy prices soared last year, the price of propane gas shot way up. But instead of passing along the price hike to the millions of backyard gas grillers, attorneys say Blue Rhino and AmeriGas simply reduced the amount of propane in the tanks.

"It seems to me it's a pretty clear ripoff," said attorney Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro. "You're promising people a full tank, and they promised that repeatedly, and they're giving them less than a full tank."

The cylinders can typically hold 20 pounds of liquefied propane. But for safety reasons, because gas expands, the tanks are usually filled to 17 or 18 pounds when you exchange your empty for a refill.

When worldwide propane prices skyrocketed, the lawsuit claims the two propane providers reduced the contents to only 15 pounds, and left the price the same.

We've seen similar moves in the grocery store. Instead of increasing prices, manufacturers put less ice cream in the carton, less peanut butter in the jar, less cereal in the box or sell a smaller box of soap.

"But here again, you go back to the promises they make. They make very specific promises of how much propane you're getting," said Berman. "They say over and over again: you're getting a full tank."

But why a class-action lawsuit? Especially since settlements historically only get a nominal amount for consumers?

"This is the problem sometimes with little ripoffs. It could add up to millions. Sometimes I've worked on cases where it could be hundreds of millions of dollars. And companies say, 'Well. you're only going to give back consumers $30 or $40. It's not worth it.'

"So should we let them keep the $300 million they ripped off? So the only way to stop this kind of practice is to make them pay back, even if it's a small amount to people, and hopefully if they get caught they won't do it again," said Berman.

Some consumers report seeing in-store signs that disclose the tanks have 15 pounds of propane. Consumers also point out that like other products, the weight of the contents is on the label. As with other products, consumers may not pay attention to the fact that the amount has been reduced for the same price.

In a published report, a spokesman for Blue Rhino said the amount of propane was cut to save consumers a price hike and a number of companies have modified product packages because of soaring costs.

The class-action lawsuit seeks to represent anyone who purchased Blue Rhino or AmeriGas propane cylinders for gas grills, outdoor heaters and fireplaces and other uses from January 1, 2008 to the present.

The lawsuit still has to be approved by a judge, which means this could take up to a year to get off the ground.

For more information:

AmeriGas and Blue Rhino Propane