SWFL residents struggle with damaged vehicles due to bad gas, limited options

Reporter: Kellie Miller
Published: Updated:

This past Sunday, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced that it had identified a potentially widespread fuel contamination issue caused by human error. It happened at the Port of Tampa but had an extensive impact, including in Southwest Florida.

The fuel involved was purchased after 10 a.m. on Saturday at stations supplied by Citgo from the Port of Tampa. Experts tell WINK News that contaminated gasoline and diesel have the potential to cause engine damage or make your car inoperable.

For a list of locations that remain under a stop-sale order pending laboratory confirmation, visit this WINK News story

Filling your car with gas can sometimes be a hassle, from the smell, to the cost. Now, put yourself in Fort Myers resident Lorna Ochart’s shoes.

“I put gas in my husband’s car, then after we saw the news I was like, ‘Hmmm, I really think I put gas in one of those gas stations,'” Ochart said. 

Ochart said she filled up at a Citgo Gas station in Lehigh Acres, one of the 12 stations in Southwest Florida identified by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as selling bad gas between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.

“So, on Monday afternoon, my car insurance company went ahead and towed it to Grease Monkey over here in Lehigh, and then on Tuesday, the 29th, they drained the gas out,” Ochart said. 

Ochart spent nearly $300 to repair her husband’s car. While she filed a claim with the state, she said no one has reached out to her or her husband within the promised timeframe. Nonetheless, she’s not the only one struggling.

“We’re getting a lot of calls for people whose vehicles were affected by the contaminated fuel,” said Scot Goldberg, Managing Partner at Goldberg Noone Abraham of Fort Myers. “And not everybody just has money in the bank to go and just pay anything that needs to be paid to get their vehicles fixed, and so it’s putting these blue-collar workers and people that can’t afford to fix their vehicles in a position where, what do they do?”

Currently, impacted consumers have a couple options. First, they can file a claim with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Second, they can go straight to the station where they bought the bad gas and demand compensation. However, they must provide a receipt or bank statement to prove their claim. While these are valid options, Goldberg said most of the people calling him just don’t have the cash on hand to pay for repairs. 

“There is no easy answer out there,” he said. 

Some of his clients have even asked if they can sue Citgo, BJ’s or 7-Eleven, owners of the 12 stations where the contaminated fuel was sold. However, Goldberg believes the true responsibility lies with the companies in charge of the Port of Tampa, where the contaminated gas originated.

”You’re going to have difficulty on an individual lawsuit trying to get any type of compensation and these class actions are so large, they will end up getting somewhere but you need to have the power of that type of litigation to take on big companies like that,” Goldberg said.

Ultimately, he advises consumers to file a claim and make their voice heard. 

“And the solution can be that the governor or the legislature does some type of emergency fund to allow people to be able to gain access to that to get their vehicles fixed,” Goldberg said. 

If you purchased gas from affected stations after 10 a.m. on Saturday, report it to FDACS. You can file a complaint by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA or online at www.fdacs.gov.

Additionally, Goldberg encourages you to contact Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer at myfloridacfo.com/ask-fldfs

Additional CFO Contact Information can be found at myfloridacfo.com/about/meet-the-cfo.

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