CHARLESTON - Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is reminding West Virginians of the state's price gouging laws during states of emergency and states of preparedness.
When the governor declares a state of emergency or state of preparedness, businesses may not increase the price of certain vital commodities by more than 10 percent.
"Today, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a 'State of Emergency' in three counties, and a 'State of Preparedness' in 35 other counties in order to mobilize resources to combat severe flooding and storms that have and are forecast to hit West Virginia this week," Morrisey said in a press release. "That declaration kicks into gear the state’s price gouging laws which control how much a retailer can raise prices of items or services the governor lists on his proclamation."
Section 46A-6J-3 of the West Virginia Code outlines the state's price gouging laws.
Specifically, the laws prohibit any person, business or contractor from inflating the price of any consumer item by more than 10 percent of what it sold for 10 days prior to the declaration of a state of emergency or state of preparedness.
Price gouging laws stay in effect until the state of emergency or preparedness is lifted or 30 days, whichever is longer, subject to limited exceptions.
The items and services identified by the governor include consumer food items, which include food and beverages for humans and animals; emergency supplies, which include water, flashlights, batteries, radios, candles, blankets, generators and temporary shelters; and essential consumer items, which include articles necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers, including clothing, diapers, soap, cleaning supplies and toiletries.
On July 13, Tomblin issued a state of emergency in Braxton, Webster and Wood counties, and a state of preparedness for Barbour, Boone, Cabell, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Fayette, Gilmer, Greenbrier, Harrison, Jackson, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Monroe, Nicholas, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Putnam, Raleigh, Randolph, Ritchie, Roane, Summers, Taylor, Tyler, Upshur, Wayne, Wirt and Wyoming counties.
"It is important to remember that price gouging laws only go into effect when a governor declares either a state of emergency or state of preparedness," Morrisey said. "As we have all seen in recent years, West Virginians will come together and help one another out in times of crisis. I believe that will be the case in this situation and that businesses will work hard to help their neighbors and customers."
Consumers who paid high prices should make a copy of the receipt, if they still have it, and attach the copy to their complaint.
"While our hope is that these incidences are rare, they do sometimes occur,” Morrisey said.
Morrisey said consumers who believe they have been charged prices that increased dramatically after the state of preparedness declaration can file a complaint with the office's Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808 or online at www.wvago.gov.