Product Liability Law

'Flame Arrester' at Issue in Gas Can Litigation; Was It Lawsuit Abuse?

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Abusive lawsuits are blamed for the shutdown of gas can manufacturer Blitz USA in an ad by the Institute for Legal Reform.

The ad shows plant employees in Oklahoma who lost their jobs and invites viewers to visit to learn how in-house lawyers ranked states for their business legal climate. The Institute is the lobbying arm for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The New York Times examines the suits. Generally the plaintiffs sought compensation for burn injuries or deaths suffered when gasoline vapors ignited outside the gas can, traveled back to the container, and caused flashback explosions. Plaintiffs’ lawyers say a “flame arrester” shield at the mouth of the container would have prevented the problem; the company says the most serious injuries could have been avoided if consumers had not poured gasoline on fires or otherwise misused the gas cans.

Blitz USA has faced 62 lawsuits since 1994, costing $30 million in legal fees and more than $30 million in settlements and payouts, the company tells the New York Times. Of the two cases that went to trial, jurors awarded $4 million in one and found for the company in the other. The second trial wasn’t an entire loss for plaintiffs, however; in an order that is on appeal, a federal judge told the company to pay $250,000 for failing to provide all the documents on flame arresters.

In one of the documents, the corporate CEO talks about his wish list and appears to request that the company introduce a device to eliminate flashbacks within the next two years. The CEO, Rocky Flick, told the Times the document was mistakenly placed in another file and it proves nothing.

He said the company decided not to add the device because of other safety issues. Among them: Consumers might mistakenly believe the device makes it safe to pour gasoline on fires.

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