• Blame the lawsuits for shutting down Blitz USA…or blame Blitz USA’s products for causing the lawsuits? Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    The following is adapted from an article by Steve Miller, National Editor, Let America Know.

    Blitz USA, America’s largest plastic gas-can maker, recently closed its manufacturing plant in Miami, Okla., after nearly 50 years of operation,  laid off 117 employees in the process, and put the blame on product liability lawsuits against the company. “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 “increased 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. And with millions of these gas cans still in use around the country, the injuries and deaths will continue.

    The company ignored overwhelming test results – including their own tests – that their gas cans are exploding because of a manufacturing defect, transforming them into flamethrowers that are torching innocent people. And in a revelation eerily similar to the Ford Pinto cases of the early 1970s, the company knew about the problem but chose to save money rather than install a simple fix.

    Christopher Scholl, communications director for the American Association for Justice (whose members represent plaintiffs in civil suits such as the type filed against Blitz USA), says a 50-cent fix could have increased consumer safety:

    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.

    That’s the real story. 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?

    And yet apologists for the business lobby in the media would paint those seeking justice from Blitz USA as the ones to blame for the company’s demise.

    The Wall Street Journal titled its July 23 editorial, “The Tort Bar Burns On. A Case Study in Modern Robbery: Targeting the Red Plastic Gas Can.” The editors describe as “trial-lawyer logic” the idea 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.”

    The Southeast Texas Record (owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce‘s “tort reform” advocacy group Institute for Legal Reform) was a bit more blunt, saying, “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.”

    And John Stossel of Fox Business wrote, “Lawyers say they help the ‘little guy.’ Sometimes they do. But they also create their own victims. The newest casualty is Blitz USA, the nation’s largest producer of consumer gas cans.” Stossel defended Blitz by saying it’s not the company’s fault that “customers make stupid decisions” and said lawyers “realize they can get rich by legally extorting money from the company.” He concluded by lamenting, “Now more Americans will store gasoline in less convenient and much less safe containers.”

    These accounts fail to mention the harm caused in cases that have nothing to do with “stupid decisions” or “simple misuse of the product.”

    Three-year-old Landon Beadore knocked over a Blitz gas can while putting away his sister’s tricycle and the vapors were ignited by a water heater, then flashed back into the can, causing an explosion that severely burned nearly half Landon’s body. A flame arrestor would have prevented the explosion. Firefighter Chad Funchess was filling up his chain saw when his Blitz gas can exploded. He spent more than four months in a coma. William Melvin, a member of a Porsche racing team pit crew who certainly knew how to handle gasoline, was filling up his lawnmower when the Blitz gas can exploded and threw him through his barn. None of these sound like examples of Yosemite Sam or the Three Stooges.

    For “tort reformers” it’s McDonald’s hot coffee all over again, with comments like these: “Lawsuit abuse is killing businesses in America. Why don’t people take responsibility for their own stupidity? We need to limit these lawsuits by capping damages and making it harder for lawyers to get away with these outrages.” The U.S. Chamber hired documentary filmmakers to shoot footage the day Blitz closed its doors, and the Chamber plans to use excerpts in political ads this fall attacking pro-consumer/anti-“tort reform” candidates.

    But Blitz USA is far from the innocent corporate bystander it claims to be. Here are the facts:

    Flame arrestors, which are used on everything from charcoal lighter fluid bottles to motor boats to metal gas cans to bottles of Bacardi 151-proof rum, were removed by Blitz when they began making cheap plastic cans. Blitz subsequently became Walmart’s exclusive supplier of gas cans and captured 75 percent of the U.S. market. Other plastic gas can manufacturers have followed suit and stopped making their gas cans with the flame arrestor.

    A company whistleblower testified in trial that Blitz destroyed documents related to engineering studies the company had done on flame arrestors dating back to 2004. Engineers actually provided the company with specifications for a flame arrestor for their gas can and a list of manufacturers that could make the missing safety part. But plans to retrofit the cans were scrapped when the company was later sold to Kinderhook, a Wall Street private equity firm (like Bain Capital) with almost a billion dollars under management.

    Other Blitz documents regarding flame arrestors were hidden from the victims that sued Blitz and were not produced until the whistleblower came forward. Ultimately, Blitz was sanctioned by a federal court in Texas for abusing the civil justice process by destroying documents and providing inaccurate testimony.

    Television reporter Dan Rather did two special reports on exploding gas cans, one in 2008 and another in 2011. Rather interviewed victims and their attorneys, experts, government officials and a Blitz company spokesperson. While the company spokesperson looks earnestly into the camera and claims that Blitz cans without arrestors are safe, expert after expert disagrees. Viewers watch Blitz gas cans explode in various test laboratories, including one particularly disturbing sequence showing flaming gas thrown on a child dummy.

    Who would have thought that the Chamber would champion the case of a dangerous product that is responsible for the burning deaths and injuries of Americans, many of them children? And how many more people will be burned before these gas cans are taken off the market?

    AAJ’s Christopher Scholl:

    The fact is this is not an industry that has done much for safety on its own. Child-proof gas caps weren’t even installed on gas cans until a couple of years ago, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered manufacturers to do it. As long as this industry refuses to protect its consumers from its products, it should not be protected from liability.

    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.

16 Responses to “Blame the lawsuits for shutting down Blitz USA…or blame Blitz USA’s products for causing the lawsuits?”

  1. Charles Johnson says:

    The solution Blitz came up with is a spring loaded nozzle that you have to hold with one hand while wrestling with a large heavy can with the other. Not good. And no one likes it. All because fools played with gas cans around a flame source.

    Stupidity should be painful, but not to the manufacturer.

  2. William Bailey says:

    Great article. Thank you !

  3. Dave says:

    What sort of a MORON does not KNOW that a gas can will blow up if ignited? ALL of these are frivilous lawsuits taking the responibility off of the consumer who has not one lick of common sense. Let’s start putting the blame where it belongs. On the obliviot missusing the product!!!!

  4. Ross says:

    When these products are made in China or another foreign company, and still have no fume arrestor on them – what then? the same lawsuits will never pass these other countries or the WTO. and the plastic container will probably have lead in them. If the Safty Commision had made this part mandatory then Blitz Could have stayed in business and competed on a fair plane. The lawsuits of stupidity in some of those cases where no amount of warring lable or arrestor would have made a difference should have never gone forward because you can not fix stupid. Seems to be plenty of fault and problems.

  5. Blitz USA Faulty Gas Cans – Where does the fault lie? « FDS Blog says:

    […] 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, […]

  6. Pakettle says:

    Dave try reading the article completely through before leaving stupid comments

  7. Dave says:

    The good ol EPA was behind the hard to handle design requiring a shut off valve as so fumes would not escape into the atmosphere . More spills and therefor fumes emitted into the atmosphere are a defect result of an out of controll beauracracy , the EPA pushing for stupid. measures that might look good on paper to the morons who sit at a desk all day but they don’t serve a useful purpose in real world usage .
    These were the best gas cans on the market untill a governmental beauracracy once again shoved its face into a ridiculous mandate .

  8. Doug says:

    Another example of how lawyers are destroying everything! I came across your website by accident, and it is so funny how you twist stupidty into a manufacturers fault. I agree with the person above… the chineese will pick up the business, the same thing will happen, and you will not get a dime! Good example, chineese drywall…… you see where those lawsuits went…. right in the can. You have support, and I will honor it on paper… oh wait I just flushed it!

  9. Evette says:

    Excellent article and very informative. Extremely poor media attention to a very important issue. Yes, gasoline should be handled with care, however, as much as I dislike the legal litigation avenue…it is as necessary as it is evil. I have been on both ends of the spectrum and it is a checks & balances-neither is 100% correct. It is not as easy as one thinks to “sue” for product liability-and win. MANY products are defective and many people get injured every day-open/shut case, however, there are not lawsuits simply because the value of the injury is not sufficient enough for the case to proceed-so the manufacturer continues to make a defective product until it injures enough people that someone is FINALLY injured enough to be valued enough to pursue a claim.

    This article tells me that Wal Mart is NOW responsible if I have a Blitz gas can if something happens because THEY know of this issue with the product and THEY continue to sell it or have not pulled it from their shelves. The company had a $.50 plastic piece to make an attempt to fix a problem-if it didnt, at least they made an attempt instead of just blaming the user when they knew better. A few law suits do NOT close a company who has been in buisness for over 50 years….they have INSURANCE…however PUNITIVE (punishment damages) just might though.

  10. Billy Walker says:

    Dave says moron! Well of course he does not know the facts. I have handled well over 30 of these cases and most occurred not from pouring gas on a fire but from an ignition source and vacuum event occurring when the can is tilted back up. Science shows this can and does happen with simple static electricity, sparks or anything. All of these horrific burns occurred due to the user getting immolated by fumes and losing limbs, eyes, ears and so forth in addition to the burns.

    This happens under many, many situations even filling up a gas tank on a lawnmower because the clowns at Blitz refused to a simple retrofit.

    Never let the facts get in the way of a good argument Dave!

  11. Richard says:

    This sounded like a reliable unbiased article until the author could not resist trying to attach blame to Mr Romney by associating the company to Bain Capital, a company that is completely unrelated to the issue.

  12. Allen Crowder says:

    You lawyers are all scum. I hope you all die horrible painful deaths. You are greedy B******S who would sue your own mother just to get a buck. Your leader barry HUSSEIN obama is the worst. Shakespeare was right

  13. Dale says:

    Wow, interesting comments so far. Did you people not read the entire article?

  14. Michael says:

    The EPA had nothing to do with the spring loaded handles or flash arrestors. Those were developed a hundred years ago, long before there was an EPA. They were developed by industrial safety associations like NFPA, API, and UL. Consumer cans were not mandated to have the safety devices, but the manufacturers only made one type so consumers got the benefit of industrial safety. Then Blitz started making consumer specific flammable liquid containers, without the safety features. You will not find a plastic Blitz can in any factory, garage, or shop where they use flammable liquids. If nothing else, that business’s insurer will drop them like a hot rock if they find out they are taking such a stupid chance.

    There is no such thing as a “frivilous lawsuit.” The courts are good about throwing out lawsuits that have no merit and juries don’t award damages unless they are convinced by evidence that the plaintiff deserves them. If you read about cases from biased sources like the Chamber of Commerce, then you can’t have an informed opinion. It is usually easy to read a case summary posted by either the court or the local bar association.

    From many of the comments above, I think the act of critical thinking and analysis has been abandoned in America in favor of politi-think.

  15. Chris says:

    I’ve been using the Blitz gas can with the spring loaded spout daily for many years. I like this can better than any other plastic gas can I’ve used in the past and I’ve used many brands over the years. It’s the only can I’ve ever used that is actually “leak proof”. I can put 5 gallons in the can, load it into my SUV or car, drive home on a curvy and bumpy road and not one drop has leaked out. Any other plastic can leaks even if I only put 3 or 4 gallons in it. So thanks to Blitz my vehicles no longer smell like gasoline. Many brands claim to be “spill proof”. Well for anyone who has a problem spilling gas there’s this great tool called a funnel. Leak proof is what matters to me. I only came across this article because I was searching for Blitz cans to buy and unfortunately they are gone. It’s unfortunate that people have been killed and injured but anyone who uses gas should know not to have gas near anything that can ignite it. Parents should know to keep gas out of reach from children and hot water heaters.

  16. Steve Lepard says:

    Interesting article and comments. These cans should be removed from use, regardless of how safe they seem. The poppet end of the sealing valve will, without warning break off of the stem. This allows gasoline vapors to escape from the can upon failure. Liquid gasoline would flow from the can immediately if it is inadvertently knocked over. Stop using this container if you have one.

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