ExxonMobil has paid more than $4.6 million to nearly 2,900 motorists impacted by the company’s production of more than 5 million gallons of tainted fuel that was distributed in the Baton Rouge area in March, the firm’s lawyers said.
“Although Exxon has … received almost no new claims in over the last six months, the claims process remains active so that Exxon can compensate any remaining consumers that were actually affected by the atypical fuel,” attorneys for the company noted in federal court documents recently filed in response to a lawsuit against the firm.
Exxon’s claims handling program and toll-free number received 7,458 calls, which resulted in more than $4.6 million in payments to 2,883 motorists who required automotive service, the company’s attorneys stated Feb. 9 in the firm’s opposition to a request that the suit be certified as a class action.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick denied the request Feb. 20, saying the plaintiffs failed to prove certain elements of class standing.
“We agree with the judge’s ruling in this matter,” ExxonMobil Baton Rouge spokeswoman Stephanie Cargile said Thursday in an email. “ExxonMobil proactively honored all valid claims that involved impacted fuel.”
Cargile said the company could not “at this time” provide an average payout figure.
New Orleans lawyer Charles Zimmer II, who represents Roger Jean LeBlanc, the suit’s lead plaintiff, said Wednesday he plans to ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review Dick’s ruling.
“We certainly think it should be” given class-action status, Zimmer said of the suit filed last year.
The suit alleged that Exxon denied many more claims than it paid.
Exxon reopened the loading racks at its Baton Rouge gasoline terminal April 3, eight days after it shut down the facility when problems developed involving the 5 million-plus gallons of unleaded regular fuel. Two batches of bad fuel produced at Exxon between March 12 and March 15 caused some local drivers to experience problems with their intake and valve systems gumming up.
LeBlanc, of East Baton Rouge Parish, bought $50.83 worth of Exxon gas March 12 at an Exxon retail location near Siegen Lane and Highland Road, and afterward, his truck began to stall in traffic and run erratically, the suit claims. He spent more than $1,500 to repair the vehicle March 19.
The suit seeks monetary compensation on behalf of “tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of individuals and entities with damages.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys are all being paid on a contingency fee basis, which means their payment is contingent on whether there is a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs.
In recently filed court documents, Exxon contends the vast majority of motorists who used the atypical fuel were “completely unaffected.”
“Due to a number of chemical and mechanical variables …, the atypical fuel did not affect all consumers equally. For a subset of motorists, the atypical fuel caused a wide array of adverse events ranging from hard starts, rough idling, and backfiring to one known instance of catastrophic engine failure,” the firm’s attorneys explained. “Often, the less severe problems were self-correcting within seconds or minutes and did not recur.”
Exxon says it also received informational inquiries from motorists who believed they bought atypical fuel but experienced no adverse impact.
“Tellingly, plaintiffs have not provided any evidence that the claims process failed to rectify the lion’s share of (if not all) legitimate claims,” the company’s attorneys argue.
In addition to refunding fuel cost and covering all related costs and expenses, the company sent $100 gift cards and a letter of apology to consumers who experienced engine problems due to the affected gasoline.
After an investigation, Exxon blamed the problems on an “atypical variation” in the fuel, which may produce a gum in engines. The company said all of the gasoline produced met regulatory specifications.
Exxon produces about half the gasoline sold in the Baton Rouge market.