DALLAS (CN) — Texas sued the Bains Brothers gas station chain this week for gouging drivers fleeing Hurricane Harvey, claiming it raised the price at two stores from $2.29 per gallon to $6.99 in a single day.
Bains Brothers LLC runs gas stations in Carrollton, Arlington and Richardson, all in the Greater Dallas area, to which thousands of residents of East Texas fled as Harvey ravaged the coast.
The Texas attorney general seeks fines of up to $20,000 for each incident of price gouging — $40,000 if the victim was a senior citizen. The Monday complaint in Dallas County Court says the damages, redress and costs exceed $100,000 and could exceed $1 million.
Under Texas law, “it is illegal to take advantage of a disaster declared by the governor by selling necessities, such as food, fuel, and medicine, at excessive or exorbitant prices,” Assistant Attorney General Bradley Carpenter says in the complaint.
The Texas governor declared a state of emergency for 30 counties on Aug. 23, as Harvey approached. On Aug. 25, as Harvey made landfall, the governor suspended collection of hotel and motel taxes from hurricane victims and responders.
Despite stories of heroism and rescues, the state says, price-gouging began immediately.
“Before the storm even made landfall, consumers trying to prepare for the imminent devastation seeking to buy necessities such as water faced prices of $40-50 per case and those seeking emergency lodging were forced at some hotels to pay nearly triple their customary rate,” the complaint states.
“After the storm, some gas stations exploited the fear of gas shortages by more than doubling their prices — in some instances charging $6-10 per gallon. Since the governor’s original disaster declaration, the attorney general has received thousands of consumer complaints and thousands more emails and phone calls relating to illegal price gouging throughout Texas.”
Bains Brothers jacked their prices up at two stores on Aug. 30, from $2.29 to $6.99, the state says.
Referring to Bains Brothers as “the defendant,” the attorney general says: “Some consumers found that defendant raised the prices while they were in the process of filling up their tanks. One consumer discovered a price change after inserting their card into the pump and so refused to make a purchase. Another consumer noted that the price had increased $0.40 per gallon during their fill up.”
Complaints to Bains employees got them nowhere. A customer who was charged $85 for 12 gallons of gas, far higher than the $4.29 per gallon advertised, “was told by the clerk, ‘It is what it is.’”
The state adds: “In some cases, the clerks refused to give customers receipts of their purchases made at the pump.”
Texas seeks disgorgement, penalties, costs of suit, damages for deceptive trade and taking advantage of a disaster, preservation of records and an injunction.