Hurricane Florence Path Toward the East Coast Triggers States’ Price-Gouging Laws

September 10, 2018, 11:50 AM UTC

Hurricane Florence is gaining speed in the Atlantic Ocean and expected to become a major hurricane soon. When South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency on Saturday, he also called anti-price-gouging laws into effect.

In South Carolina, selling or renting goods or lodging “at an unconscionable price” is subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation (or up to $15,000 per violation if an injunction has been issued) and may be charged as a misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 30 days in jail.

“With the possibility that Tropical Storm Florence could make landfall in South Carolina, likely as a hurricane, our people have already started making preparations,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “We can expect normal price increases, but we may see businesses and individuals looking to unfairly take advantage of the situation through price gouging of food, gasoline, lodging, and other commodities as defined by the statute. By our law, that’s a criminal violation and an unfair trade practice.”

Virginia and North Carolina have also declared states of emergency, which allows them to call in the National Guard. Virginia’s price gouging law allows for a civil penalty of up to $2,500 per violation (or up to $5,000 if in violation of an injunction), and North Carolina allows for a civil penalty of up to $5,000 per violation.

Price gouging amid natural disasters and other emergencies should be reported to state attorneys general. A total of 34 states and the District of Columbia have anti-price-gouging laws on the books.

The northern coast of South Carolina and the Outer Banks of North Carolina are likely to be the areas most impacted by the storm, which could cause $15.3 billion in damage, said Chuck Watson, a disaster researcher at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.