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Blitz USA Faulty Gas Cans – Where does the fault lie?

After 50 years of operation, Blitz USA, America’s largest plastic gas-can manufacturer, closed its doors in Miami, Oklahoma.  117 employees were laid off in the process.  While plant closings and lay-offs are not uncommon in our current economy, the peculiar thing about this specific plant is its reason for closing.  Rather than lack of demand or products product manufacturing being outsourced to other countries, Blitz USA claims the plant was closed for a different reason.  According to Page One, the company puts the blame on lawsuits against them, saying:

We have been operating under extremely litigious environment [sic],” company officials said in a 2011 letter to customers. At that time the company was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying, “The defense costs related to increased litigation associated with fuel containment products is the primary factor that leads to our current situation.

The article goes on to say that the, “litigation”  stemmed from more than 75 known incidents of people severely burned or killed when a Blitz gas can exploded. Fourteen people were burned to death, six of them children. With millions of these gas cans still in use around the country, the injuries and deaths are expected to continue. While the company faced overwhelming negative test results about the defects in the cans, they chose to ignore them and move forward with manufacturing them as they were, rather than amending the problematic design.  Christopher Scholl, from the American Association of Justice says the following:

The consumer gas cans manufactured by Blitz USA are lacking something called a “flame arrestor.” It’s a simple thing: just a piece of mesh that goes over the nozzle and contains the fumes in the can while the gasoline pours. Professional-grade gas cans have them. In fact, flame arrestors have been used industrially for more than 200 years. But Blitz and other makers have not been installing them on the plastic gas cans they sell to consumers…Why would any company not provide an inexpensive fix to a problem that has killed many Americans and afflicted others with excruciatingly painful and permanently disfiguring injuries? Why did Blitz choose to continue selling this defective product and the expensive litigation they knew would follow rather than put these inexpensive flame arrestors in place and save lives?

While the legal team in this dispute blames Blitz for not taking the necessary steps to perfect their product, business lobbiests blame consumers and come to the company’s defense, claiming this case to be similar to the McDonald’s Hot Coffee case.  According to one business lobbyist, the hazards associated with gas can injuries most directly reflect the consumers’ “stupid decisions” and “simple misuse of the product” rather than any problems with the manufacturing of the cans. The Southeast Texas Record (owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “tort reform” advocacy group, Institute for Legal Reform, said this:

“The Three Stooges or Yosemite Sam might use a lighted match to check the level in a container of gasoline and miraculously survive the combustion, but people who try a stunt like that in real life are just plain ignorant and have no one but themselves to blame.” In summary, “Another triumph for greedy litigants, their lawyers – and future Chinese manufacturers.” 

The Wall Street Journal also chimed in on the topic, stating that, “they could sue Blitz when someone poured gas on a fire (for instance, to rekindle the flame) and the can exploded, alleging that the explosion is the result of defects in the can’s design as opposed to simple misuse of the product….stories like this cry out for a bipartisan offensive against these destructive raids that loot law-abiding companies merely because our insane tort laws make them vulnerable.” At the end of the day, the business community wants to make a case about how litigious consumers misuse products and blame injuries on product error, while the legal community encourages companies like Blitz to fix product defects to prevent injuries from happening in the first place.  All things considered, some of the noted injuries had nothing to do with human error or misuse of the product, yet in the end, people still were injured. At the end of the article, Page One concludes, “But Blitz USA is far from the innocent corporate bystander it claims to be,” and ends with a quote from the AAJ’s Christopher Scholl:

The Wall Street Journal editorial…focuses on how Blitz is now filing for bankruptcy. But this is exactly how our civil justice system is supposed to work. When companies make flawed products and knowingly sell them to unsuspecting Americans, when they fail to look out for the welfare of their customers, they must be held accountable.

Last modified on March 1, 2016. Published by Friedman, Domiano & Smith Co., L.P.A.

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