Attorney General Corbett announces consumer protection lawsuit against suburban Philadelphia heating oil supplier
HARRISBURG - Attorney General Tom Corbett today announced the filing of a civil lawsuit against a Chester County heating oil business - David P. Gappa Oil Company, Inc., of Phoenixville - along with company owner and President David P. Gappa, concerning the non-delivery of heating oil which had been purchased and prepaid by Pennsylvania consumers.
Corbett said that Gappa Oil primarily served residential customers in Chester, Berks and Montgomery counties. To date, the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection has received more than 100 complaints from consumers who paid in advance for heating oil for the 2007-2008 heating season, which Gappa has failed to deliver.
"Gappa Oil took advance payment from consumers with the promise of a steady supply of heating oil through the winter, but eventually left many homeowners cold and facing financial uncertainty," Corbett said. "Gappa's failure to deliver on its contracts has victimized the consumers twice - first, for not delivering the heating fuel that had already been paid for, and second, by forcing consumers to find new oil suppliers and purchase fuel at much higher prices than their original agreements with Gappa."
Corbett said that more than half of the consumers who filed complaints are senior citizens, but the list also includes families with small children, families with special needs children and disabled persons. Two complaints came from churches that borrowed money for the prepaid contracts and now have to repay bank loans for oil they did not receive.
According to the lawsuit, Gappa Oil contacted consumers and advertised prepaid heating oil agreements during the spring and summer of 2007, with the oil to be delivered during the 2007-08 heating season. Consumers were required to purchase a minimum of 400 gallons of heating oil, though some contracts were for as much as 8,000 gallons, with prices ranging from $1.90 to $2.40 per gallon. All contracts were prepaid at the time the orders were placed.
"Consumers believed they were guarding themselves against rising costs by pre-purchasing their oil in the spring and summer of 2007 - long before the heating season began," Corbett said. "Instead, they were left to scramble to find new oil suppliers mid-way through the winter and forced to dig even deeper into their wallets and checkbooks in order to stay warm."
Corbett said that consumers began contacting the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection after Gappa abruptly stopped delivering oil in mid-November 2007. To date, 104 complaints have been filed with the Attorney General's Office, including 62 complaints from senior citizens.
The consumer protection lawsuit filed against David Gappa and Gappa Oil seeks full restitution for consumers' prepaid oil contracts, as well as any amount that consumers paid to other suppliers for oil that Gappa did not deliver. The suit also seeks penalties of up to $3,000 per violation for each consumer who was victimized by unfair trade practices, deceptive marketing and other violations of Pennsylvania's Consumer Protection Law.
Corbett said the lawsuit alleges that Gappa Oil failed to deliver home heating oil as contracted; implied that they had heating oil to sell, when they did not; and advertised the delivery of heating oil with the intent not to deliver as advertised.
Corbett noted that this is an ongoing consumer protection investigation. Additional consumers are urged to contact the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection and file a formal complaint if they contracted for prepaid heating oil delivery through Gappa Oil but did not receive all of their scheduled deliveries.
Consumer claims can be filed by calling the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline, at 1-800-441-2555, or submitting an online complaint using the Attorney General's website: www.attorneygeneral.gov. (Highlight the "Complaints" button at the top left corner of the website and select "Consumer Complaints" from the menu that appears)
The civil lawsuit against David Gappa and Gappa Oil was filed in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas by Senior Deputy Attorney General Henry Hart III and Deputy Attorney General Dina I. Oddis of the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection.