Gas Station Chain Slapped With $30 Million Verdict For Shortchanging Drivers

A jury handed down a $30 million verdict agains gas station chain Sun Mart for leaving their customers a little light at the pump. The Texas Department of Agriculture found in an investigation that the chain was routinely shortchanging customers with improperly calibrated pumps.

The investigation was launched after SunMarts regularly failed inspections. Authorities found thirty-five locations in the Houston area alone that left customers with less gas than they paid for.

In a statement, SunMart said, “We are very disappointed with the jury’s verdict and believe there is insufficient evidence to support it.” They plan to appeal.

Jury hands down $30M verdict against SunMart chain [KTRK] (Thanks to Melody!)

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  1. obits3 says:

    Where in Houston is this? I’ve never heard of SunMart.

    • Southern says:

      They’re mostly inside the Beltway , but there are a few outside as well. They’re all Mobil stations.

  2. tedyc03 says:

    Companies always seem to say the courts erred, whether it’s a judge or a jury. I usually interpret their statements to mean “it’s a shame we got caught doing that, and that a judge/jury couldn’t be bullshit out of hurting us.”

    • oldwiz65 says:

      Companies only say the courts erred when the decision goes AGAINST the company. Otherwise, they would be fine.

      • partofme says:

        I think people and governments do this too. If you thought you were wrong, you probably wouldn’t have been in front of a judge to start with.

        • mythago says:

          No, if you thought you were wrong, but that it would be cheaper to fight it and risk a verdict than pay, you’d be in court.

      • Doubts42 says:

        Where as private citizens would never complain if a judgement went against them right?

  3. JonathanR says:

    Insufficient evidence? Either you pump gas accurately or you don’t, its that simple.

    • DanRydell says:

      It’s actually not that simple… I think the evidence they’re referring to is evidence that the mis-calibration was intentional.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        A pattern of repeated inspection failures across large numbers of locations would constitute sufficient evidence.

      • KingPsyz says:

        I’m gonna have to say REPEATED failuires and 35 locations with failing calibration that just happened to leave customers with less gas is more than enough evidence.

        Unless I am missing something and the law of averages on these unfortunate device failures also yielded extra gas to some consumers… But I think that would have been mentioned if that was the case.

        • Griking says:

          If this was purely an accident and and really a case of a poorly calibrated pumps then wouldn’t it be safe to assume that at least a few of the pumps in question would have given customers MORE gas then they were entitled?

          • KingPsyz says:

            Wow it’s like you read the second point I made and repeated it back to me phrased slightly differently, why hadn’t I considered that posibility?

            • _UsUrPeR_ says:

              That person is more right than you from every conceivable angle. I am sorry, but maybe you should re-consider posting.

              In my point of view, this would only be prosecutable if there were no gas pumps giving more gas than normal. The law of averages does state that there should be errors both positive and negative. Also, they were prosecuted and fined, so they are quite guilty. Law of averages. Law of averages. (law of averages)

              • EWU_Student says:

                I think the point is that the pumps were incorrectly calibrated, which I’m sure is required every period of time. I know in WA all the pumps have a yearly sticker so you can see, as a customer, when the pump was last calibrated.

                The simple fact that the stations haven’t been calibrating the pumps is at the least negligence/fraud, due to the fact that as a customer, you cannot be sure of getting what you are paying for.

              • KingPsyz says:

                you should probablly re-read my post and the reply a few times before white knighting them sporto…

                granted sarcasm seems to be lost on many here.

  4. Joseph S Ragman says:

    Sun-Mart should be made to discount the price of their fuel by 10 percent for the next year to compensate its customers for shortchanging them

    • StuffThingsObjects says:

      That would increase business to them.

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        Yes, and since they’re selling every gallon at a loss…

        • obits3 says:

          If your company can cut prices and go out of business, then so can mine =)

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          You really think 10 cents less constitutes a loss?

          • ShruggingGalt says:

            Right now, yes. Wholesale prices on gasoline have gone up 10-20 cents in the last week. Have the pump prices gone up in your area that fast? Contrary to common knowledge, many retailers are loathe to raise prices rapidly at the pump – mainly because their competitor may not.

            They will have to when they get a fuel delivery and it costs them 20 cents more a gallon than what is barely left in the ground. Most stores don’t carry more than a few days worth of fuel. In fact the tanks aren’t big enough to hold much more than that. (depends on how busy they are, but if they have a 20,000 gallon fuel tank and only sell 2k gallons a day, someone really messed up when designing that store)

            • KingPsyz says:

              mine did, all the stations in the area have shot up at least 10 cents a gallon in the last few days… your point?

              • Joseph S Ragman says:

                Yours might have gone up tem cents, but in my area in Michigan, gas went from $2.79 to $3.09 overnight … a thirty-cent jump … haven’t seen any kind of rollback yet, like we usually get a couple days after a large increase.

                • PlumeNoir - Thank you? No problem! says:

                  Saw the same thing, too (Detroit area). I was surprised when i saw gas go over $3 at some places that were at $2.79 a week prior. I watched the station near me jump up 8 cents on Saturday, 10 cents on Sunday and have fallen back down, maybe, 5 cents.

                  I was trying to figure out what caused the sudden increases. The prices are starting to go back down, but it seems to be a penny or two a day…

          • Powerlurker says:

            Retail gasoline sales is one of the most competitive and efficient markets there is. Gross margin on a gallon of gas is less than 10 cents and a significant portion of that is eaten up by credit card fees. They’re basically selling you the gasoline at cost in hopes that you’ll buy cigarettes and beer from the convenience store.

            • Gulliver says:

              Effecient? Not at all. This company systematically made their margin higher by charging for more gas than was purchased. It shows why the “free market” is a total failure. Right wing nut jobs would actually have you believe that less regulation would have stopped this. Of course, unless you have a calibrated gas can to fill your tank each time you are at the trust of the station.
              Appropriate punishment should be at each pump a sign should say.
              ” We systematically over charged our customers between these dates. We are being fined triple the amount we stole from our customers. One third to go to the lawyers and 2/3 rds into the state general fund to be used for hiring more enforcement of our crimes

    • ShruggingGalt says:

      Yeah but it would be costly. 10% reduction would mean selling fuel below cost. Right now retailers would be lucky to have a 3% margin on gas, and it’s getting worse.

      • KingPsyz says:

        guess they shouldn’t have stolen from their consumers then huh?

      • TheGreySpectre says:

        selling at a reduced price hurts everyone. Because their gas would be cheaper everyone would buy gas their hurting other businesses in the area, but because they would be selling at a loss it would also cost them a lot of money while generating no income, forcing them out of business. Penalties should not hurt other businesses.

    • hennese says:

      Wouldn’t really make a difference. If they lowered by 10%, all the other stations in the area would match it – so they really wouldn’t be penalized, since it would just be business as usual. What they should be forced to do is give refunds back to consumers who can prove, via credit card reciept or statement, that they purchased gas there.

      • Stickdude says:

        What would happen is that the attorneys involved get $25 million, $4.9 million gets donated to some random charity, and customers who were actually harmed by purchasing gas there get a coupon for 39 cents off a future gas purchase.

  5. Murbob says:

    Is anyone really surprised that a corporation is trying to rip people off?

    There’s a lot more of this going on than this one story.

  6. Murbob says:

    After some more thought, I think I see the real problem.

    A recalibration of the pumps in a way that short changes each customer a dollar means that x number of customers multiplied by that dollar comes to a very large number. The execs figured if they get caught, they’ll be fined a dollar amount that is probably much less than the profit they made being dishonest.

    As children, they brainwash us into thinking that “Crime does not pay”. The fact is, it pays quite well which is why there is so much of it.

    You steal 10 million dollars, you spend 1 million in legal fees defending yourself and you pay a 5 million dollar penalty. Do the math.

    Sun Mart didn’t expect a penalty that high that’s all.

    If you want to stop others from doing the same thing as Sun Mart, the best, and simplest solution, is to put them out of business in that state.

  7. amgriffin says:

    Sunmart isn’t the only one. Several times I’ve hit the button to select the grade of gasoline at the pump, and before dispensing any fuel at all the readout will show just a couple of pennies, maybe three cents immediately, before the nozzle is even in the car or the nozzle trigger squeezed.

    • obits3 says:

      Chargeback! jk

    • KingPsyz says:

      call the local dept of ag or weights & measures immediately next time!

      take a picture with your phone, in fact the number for the dept is supposed to be posted on the pump near or on the inspection decal I believe.

  8. SimplyStating says:

    A lot of this can be stopped if they did the regular routine checkups that are so poorly missed or not done for years. If you ever read the stickers on most stations pumps you will be shocked to see the last time it was properly inspected. It is sad if you think about it.

  9. Grungo says:

    I once reported a gas station to the Oklahoma bureau of Weights and Measures because the station rang me up 12.9 gallons on a *max capacity* 12.5 gallon tank. It seemed blatantly obvious the station was ripping folks off. Their response was “we don’t give a damn, and we’re not going to do anything about it.”

    Texas >>>> Oklahoma (yet again)

    • KingPsyz says:

      I wonder if the federal DOT or Dept of the Interior might get involved, that’s a pretty big deal.

      • PlumeNoir - Thank you? No problem! says:

        In Michigan, I know the Attorney General’s office was really paying attention to this sort of thing for a while…

    • Jay911 says:

      Are you certain that the 12.9 gallons you pumped was pumped at the same temperature as the calibration was done at?

      No, really. In Canada (where I’m from, and where I’m familiar with), pumps are calibrated at 15°C (~59F). Gasoline’s volume differs significantly at different temperatures. I’m often putting 55+ liters (14.3 gallons) in a 53 liter (14 gallon) tank.

      • MrEvil says:

        Temperature only affects the energy content of the fuel not the volume. 12.5 gallons of gasoline is 12.5 gallons of gasoline weather it’s at 0 degrees or 30 degrees. You can’t physically pump 12.9 gallons of liquid into a vessel with only 12.5 gallons of capacity.

        And it’s a moot point anyway, in the US almost every gas station has below ground storage tanks where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate enough to cause a significant expansion or contraction of the fuel.

  10. The cake is a lie! says:

    I’m sure they do plan to appeal. That is the point of the appeals process. Name one corporate case like this where the defendant didn’t appeal after they got slapped with a fine. They always do and then you never hear anything else about it.

    So what happens to the consumers who got robbed? How do they get their piece of that 30 mil? What a racket Dept of Ag is running down there in Texas!

  11. jim says:

    eh, I have seen the same here. I used to wonder about my MPG. As a general rule it can be calculated by writing the mileage on each gas receipt and then comparing to the next gas receipt which has the new mileage + fuel added. One gas station I would go to would consistently give me 24 mpg, others I would see 27 mpg. So I figured they were shorting me 11 percent. Scumbags. Never go there anymore for any reason.

  12. DerangedKitsune says:

    I saw something a few years ago about the gas industry trying to push for the ability to calibrate their own pumps, to set the weights themselves, etc. They sited the piss-poor inspection rates of the federal regulators, the fact that pumps would not be inspected for years, etc. as a reason to do it themselves to “inspire” consumer confidence.

    Yeah, we all know what will happen if they’re allowed to do that; a grand total of No Accountability To Anyone if you want to dispute what the pump says it’s giving you vs what you actually get. While the current system is piss poor in many places (how come we can’t get more jobs in THAT gov dept? You know, some place useful?), at least there is SOME accountability to the customer.

  13. Mcshonky says:

    How do you know they’re guilty?

    Because they are disappointed with the verdict and they don’t say we are not guilty of the charges!!!

    Without reading the entire story, I hope the fine was many multiples of what was calculated as Scum Mart’s profit.

  14. Gulliver says:

    Effecient? Not at all. This company systematically made their margin higher by charging for more gas than was purchased. It shows why the “free market” is a total failure. Right wing nut jobs would actually have you believe that less regulation would have stopped this. Of course, unless you have a calibrated gas can to fill your tank each time you are at the trust of the station.
    Appropriate punishment should be at each pump a sign should say.
    ” We systematically over charged our customers between these dates. We are being fined triple the amount we stole from our customers. One third to go to the lawyers and 2/3 rds into the state general fund to be used for hiring more enforcement of our crimes

  15. Razor512 says:

    the pumps should have an odometer , compare the reading from the last calibration,, to what it is now, then based on how much gas they stole from customers, fine them for 1000 times the amount, the RIAA does this when they sue people for pirating music, do the same to the gas stations.

    If I was in charge, I would push for a minimum of 20 billion dollars for the fine, if they cant pay it back then the government will take ownership of the gas station and they will be fined for what ever money they have in any account, including any property they own, they will then be arrested for at least 25 years.

    These companies like to take advantage of people and this is theft of a lot of money, if a regular or middle class citizen was to go into a bank and steal even a million dollars, they will be in jail for a very long time. why doesn’t this happen to the owners of these companies.

    For the area where I live (NY) all of the gas stations around where I live, give less than what we pay for.

    I generally buy gas for the grass cutter. The fill line on the 1 gallon tank is accurate

    When I buy 1 gallon from the nearest gas station which is a “GP petro”
    I get about 0.8 gallons of gas

    about 2 miles is a “Valero” they give even less, probably 0.75 gallons

    then further, there is a BP, they give about 0.95 (it is literally right under the fill line)

    We try to avoid the valero and the GP petro

    another problem is that the GP petro gives a bad fuel mix. Using a 2002 Toyota Camry from the valero and the BP, I can use the 87 (regular) fuel and be perfectly fine,

    with the GP petro, the engine got really loud and shut off, luckily I had some extra gas in the trunk which was a 93

    I could not really fight the issue out with the gp petro since the car’s manual wants 91 gas

    Gas stations are poorly regulated and because of this, they take advantage and screw the customer over.

    • dg says:

      The amount of gas that you receive is adjusted for temperature. I believe it’s measured to be 1 gallon at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So when it’s colder, it’s denser and you get more. When it’s warmer, it’s not and you get less.

      There’s technology to compensate for this (I believe it’s used in Canada), but it’s not here in the US of A yet…

      Also, if your gas container is plastic, it’s going to expand and contract a bit depending on the temperature as well. So that 0.95 from BP may be a gallon, but your container has expanded a bit…

      For those stations that you believe are ripping you off – call weights and measures. File complaints… every single time you get ripped off. If they do nothing, call The Post – let them put it on the front page…

      • Razor512 says:

        For me, I did these test during the summer and during all of the times, the temperatures were around the mid 80’s

        It is actually pretty common for gas stations to rip people off, and on most pumps there is no info on when they were last inspected, (either that or I am looking in the wrong places

        Another problem is the pump lag where the counter for how much fuel was sold starts running when you press the trigger but it takes some time before fuel actually comes out.

        The octane problems are also annoying because when using the 87 fuel on a car that recommends 91, not all of the gas stations, 87 fuel will work with out causing the engine to go crazy, Shouldn’t those numbers like 87 and 93 be a standard across all gas stations? why do some offer a better 87 than others?

        • Firethorn says:

          1. Underground gas tanks – Gas should be around the same temperature year round.
          2. US doesn’t really play around with ‘temperature corrected’.
          3. Even WITH temperature correction, the difference shouldn’t exceed 5%.

          Contact your state’s weights & measures department.

    • AllanG54 says:

      You’re actually getting more if you say you fill the tank to the gallon mark but the pump only registers .8 gallons. So, I’d be sure to go there more often, not less.

      • Razor512 says:

        Each time the pump registers a full gallon, but the tank that I am filling up shows me getting less, (the amount varies with different gas stations)

        So basically I test the stations and avoid the ones that rip me off.

    • gman863 says:

      It could also be an issue with the gas can. Some “one gallon” cans actually hold a bit more, allowing the gas to expand in a hotter storage area without leaking and/or allow enough room for mixing 2-stroke oil.

      The only way to be sure if the 1 gallon line is accurate is to empty the can of gas and use a measuring cup and funnel with water to test it.

  16. Kishi says:

    And how much of that fine is going to go back to the people who were cheated by the company?

  17. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I heard that when they tested tanks, they pulled a nominal 10-gallon sample and compared it with a certified 10-gallon measure. So a common version of this scam was to short the customer markedly on the first five gallons and make it up on the second five. Since the average gas sale is well under ten gallons, this would result in significant shorting, but with no way to catch it in a normal test.

  18. vastrightwing says:

    I don’t think the “system” is at fault here. What you have are thieves exploiting the general public. This happened years ago when merchants would use rigged scales to weigh dry goods. I guess if you’re concerned about a particular gas station, carry around a marked gas jug and see how close the pump matches your jug. True, the jug won’t be accurate, but you would notice a 10% or more problem.

    Also, I don’t understand how a pump would dispense a varying amount of liquid at different points vs. the displayed amount. Or put another way, people are suggesting that some manufacturer wrote software in the pump that has a customer shortage routine built in so as not to tip off the inspectors? This I find a bit conspiratorial. I don’t believe it. Is it possible? Sure, but not likely.

    • gman863 says:

      Any electronic device can be rigged by hacking its software or replacing certian chips on the main board.

      Several years ago, an investigator/geek for Nevada’s gaming authority was busted in a scam that involved rigging slot machine software to make a decent payout of a few hundred bucks if a certain betting sequence was followed (5 coins – 1 coin – 2 coins – 4 coins, etc.). It was small enough not be raise red flags on huge payouts; however its estimated the thousands of smaller payouts cost casino owners a minimum of $10-$15 million total.

  19. Skid Malfoy says:

    See, the market regulates itself just fine without government intervention.