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Hyundai, Kia sue four big U.S. railroads for fuel surcharges

Hyundai Motor and its Kia affiliate have taken legal action against the four largest U.S. railroads, alleging them of violating U.S. antitrust law by conspiring to drive up shipping costs though coordinated fuel surcharges.

The South Korean automakers submitted three lawsuits on Monday alleging BNSF, CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific of putting the surcharges between July 2003 and December 2008.

BNSF is a unit of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, however was a standalone company at the time of the alleged conspiracy.

The lawsuits seek triple damages and were submitted in the federal court in Santa Ana, California, close the automakers’ respective U.S. headquarters.

Lawyers for BNSF referred a request for comment to that firm, which did not immediately replied.

Mentioning meetings, phone calls and emails, Hyundai and Kia alleged the railroads of conspiring to enforce fuel surcharges, under the guise of a fuel cost recovery program, that generated billions of dollars in profit at consumers’ expense.

Their lawsuits mentioned a 2007 independent study that stated the railroads’ fuel surcharge revenue exceeded their fuel costs by over $6 billion from 2003 to March 2007.

Hyundai and Kia sued 6-1/2 weeks following a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. stated nationwide litigation over the surcharges could not proceed as a class action as over 2,000 members of the proposed class were not harmed. The automakers’ law firm also collaborated on that case.

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