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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fuller Oil to establish fund paying customers ‘inconvenienced’ by delivery issues

HUDSON – Customers of Fred Fuller Oil who had to pay other firms for emergency deliveries last month, or who suffered damage from frozen pipes when they ran out of oil, can ask for payment from a fund being set up by the company.

In a Feb. 1 letter, company President Fred Fuller said the firm will repay the $21,000 cost of an emergency hotline established by the state to help its customers during last month’s delivery shortages, and establish a similar-sized fund “to assist those customers … inconvenienced by the situation.” ...

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HUDSON – Customers of Fred Fuller Oil who had to pay other firms for emergency deliveries last month, or who suffered damage from frozen pipes when they ran out of oil, can ask for payment from a fund being set up by the company.

In a Feb. 1 letter, company President Fred Fuller said the firm will repay the $21,000 cost of an emergency hotline established by the state to help its customers during last month’s delivery shortages, and establish a similar-sized fund “to assist those customers … inconvenienced by the situation.”

“Details have not been finalized yet,” said attorney Steven Hyde, of Coakley and Hyde in Portsmouth, one of two law firms representing Fuller Oil in response to the delivery problems that hit the firm in January.

Hyde said Fuller Oil will get information out to customers this week or next week about how to apply for the fund. There is likely to be a Web form, or printed form available at company offices, in which customers can detail their information and their claims.

Hyde said “some sort of mathematical formula” would be established to determine payment to affected customers. If claims exceed $21,000, the company will have to decide how to proceed, he said.

“Some folks have contacted the company and said, ‘Listen, we were charged more money than we would have paid you, and we want to be compensated.’ ... We will do our best to make everyone whole,” Hyde said.

Fuller Oil is the largest heating oil retailer in the state. By most estimates, it handles about one-third of the 245,000 New Hampshire homes that use heating oil.

On Feb. 1, Fred Fuller, president of the company, wrote a letter to Perry Plummer, director of the New Hampshire Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, saying the company would cover the cost of the 24-hour hotline, which ran from Jan. 7-12 and was staffed by four to nine people at a time.

The hotline was established after officials and media received many calls from Fuller Oil customers who hadn’t gotten automatic or pre-scheduled refills and were running low on heating oil, but couldn’t get through to the company.

Fuller Oil has said the delivery issues were caused by bad weather and problems with third-party telephone vendors, which made it difficult or impossible to establish phone service for its offices throughout the state for up to 10 days. Hyde said Fuller was looking into whether it would make claims against those vendors.

After the hotline wound up, the state sent Fuller Oil a bill for $20,972 to cover its cost. The bill seeks $16,769 for Homeland Security time and $4,203 for other state employees’ time.

The letter read, “Although there is no requirement for us to reimburse the State of New Hampshire for the assistance provided, we think it is the responsible thing for us to do on behalf of the goodwill provided by you and the State of New Hampshire.

“We have been in business since 1969 and this is the only time anything like this has ever happened. We have taken several measures to ensure it will not happen again,” the letter read. The letter does not detail those steps.

The attorney general’s office has asked for documents from Fuller Oil supporting its claim to have enough futures contracts to pay for the oil that it pre-sold through so-called “pre-buy” contracts this winter and next winter.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).