Fla. AG issues price-gouging alert

John O'Brien Feb. 14, 2007, 5:00pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - In the wake of a series of deadly tornadoes that hit Florida earlier this month, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is warning consumers of contractors who will engage in the practice of "price gouging."

State law prohibits extreme increases in the price of such commodities as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency. Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency in Volusia, Seminole, Lake and Sumter counties.

"The whole price-gouging thing is nothing more than demagoguery by politicians," said David Rossmiller, a partner at Dunn Carney in Portland, Ore., managing editor of the Insurance Coverage Law Blog and a former reporter at the now-defunct Phoenix Gazette who has been closely following the issues facing Florida concerning its governmental handling of catastrophes.

"If there's a fire in the room, and you're the only person with an axe to break the door down, then you have a commodity that's in demand. For someone to say you have to give it away or sell it at a lesser price than what people will pay for it is kind of insolent and doesn't recognize reality."

The storms reportedly left 20 people dead and caused damage to hundreds of homes and businesses.

McCollum said that, under state law, a commodity's price is exorbitant if the increase in the price represents a gross disparity from the average price of that commodity during the 30 days prior to the declared emergency, and violators face civil penalties.

Rossmiller, meanwhile, said rising prices are all a part of America's supply and demand-based economy.

"If I need gas I can't go down to the gas station on the corner and say, 'Hey you can only charge me 89 cents per gallon because I remember paying that 12 years ago,'" he said.

"If there's a natural catastrophe that occurs, and someone needs a generator and I have 10 of them, who's to say I have to sell it for the price I did before?"

McCollum says it's all done in the interest of protecting the consumer.

"We will do whatever is necessary to help protect Floridians from those who might try to take advantage of them in the wake of this disaster," McCollum said.

Rossmiller's blog can be found at

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