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BP Facing Lawsuits As Bad Gas Claims Rise To 7,900

Updated 08/28/12 - 5:07 p.m.

HAMMOND, Ind. -- Facing at least two separate class-action lawsuits over contaminated gasoline in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, BP said Tuesday that more than twice as much fuel was affected by the contamination than originally reported.

CBS 2's Brad Edwards reports BP estimated 4.7 million gallons of gasoline were recalled from gas stations in the Chicago area, northwest Indiana, and the Milwaukee area.

That's more than double the initial estimate of 2.1 million gallons of gas that had to be recalled last week, due to high levels of a polymer residue, which is difficult to burn in automobile engines.

As of Tuesday afternoon, BP had received 7,900 claims from customers needing repairs after receiving some of the tainted gasoline.

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Many motorists who received the contaminated fuel ended up having their cars stall on them, or had hard-starting issues that forced them to take their cars to the shop for repairs.

"This has been a nightmare, one thing after another," said Sedarrel Howard, whose car was crippled by the bad gas.

He paid $1,531.41 out-of-pocket for repairs and is now waiting for his BP reimbursement. He's one of 79-hundred whose claims are being processed.

"Our claims adjusters are trying to work with each case and if there's a unique situation we try our best to be fair," said BP Spokesperson Scott Dean. "We are trying to speed that process up."

BP said a slug of bad product went mistakenly undetected, and was introduced into the gas at the refinery in Whiting, Ind. The problem should have been detected, but instead made it to stations in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

At least two class-action lawsuits have been filed against BP.

Two Indiana residents have filed separate class-action lawsuits against BP, after they were both told it would cost $1,000 or more to fix their vehicles.

Natalie Custy said in her lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond, that she bought more than $50 worth of gas for her 2008 Nissan SUV on Aug. 17.

She contends that, the next day, her vehicle started shaking, with the engine vibrating. By Aug. 20, her SUV wouldn't start in the morning and backfired several times. She finally got it to start with the help of a relative, the suit says.

She took the vehicle to a repair shop, where they told her the repair would cost $987.

"The local mechanic described the problems caused by the defective fuel as a 'nightmare' ... " the lawsuit says.

Custy's attorney, William Riley, said that Custy called BP and that after waiting on hold for about an hour, was told by a BP representative that someone would call her back. No one from BP had called her as of Monday afternoon, however, Riley said.

Lake County resident Mark Gonzalez says in his suit, filed Friday in the federal court in Hammond, that he filled up both his 2002 GMC Yukon and his 2007 Harley-Davidson motorcycle with the bad gasoline, leading to repairs costing more than $1,000.

In Gonzalez's lawsuit, he said he contacted BP about the issue and told a representative he did not have the money to pay for the repairs. However, he was told the company was taking information, not issuing checks, for now, the suit says.

His lawsuit also claims that BP is not doing enough to handle the calls from the thousands of affected customers.

"BP's claims process is insufficient to handle the high volume of telephone calls, leaving many purchasers angry, frustrated and unhappy," his suit states.

A spokesman for BP said the company has no comment on ongoing legal actions.

Custy isn't the only customer who has had trouble hearing back from BP. Chicago resident Zach Neff said he thinks he bought his bad batch of gasoline on Aug. 13, before a trip to Iowa. His car sat idle for six days after he returned, and when he finally drove it, the BMW made it to a car wash a block from where he lives before it broke down, Neff said.

"It sputtered, and it felt like there was one cylinder not hitting at all," Neff said.

He initially did not think the problem was connected to the BP gas recall, but when he took the BMW to his dealership, they told him the bad gas had caused about $6,000 in damage.

Because the car is less than a year old, Neff said, the dealership doesn't keep the parts in stock and has to wait for them from Germany, which they told him would take a long time. Meanwhile, he has yet to hear back from BP on his claim he filed, despite calling the company four times, Neff said.

"I have no idea if BP is going to deny or assist my claim," he said.

Neff said the car is the only one his family owns. BP has said it will pay for a rental vehicle for affected drivers for seven days, but Neff said it looks like it will take longer than that to fix his car.

Riley said they decided to file for class-action status, which must still be granted by a federal judge, because so many people like Custy and Neff, who is not part of the lawsuit, have been hurt by the bad gasoline. Riley said most people would likely spend more on legal fees than any money they would receive from BP. A class-action suit allows them to still collect, however.

"What we're trying to do with this lawsuit is make sure BP makes right what it did wrong," Riley said.

(The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.)

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