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Rick Shapiro
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Recent Congressional Testimony Highlights Value Of Product Liability Litigation

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As part of a recent campaign launched by the House Judiciary Committee, Rocky Flick, CEO of Blitz USA, testified on the theme of “Excessive Litigation’s Impact on America’s Global Competitiveness.” Rather than showcase an example of the dangers posed by unnecessary litigation, the episode served to highlight how important vigorous product liability lawsuits are to the country.

Blitz USA, formerly the largest plastic gas-can maker in the country, recently closed down its main Oklahoma plant and laid off all 117 employees working there. As it was closing, management issued a statement placing the blame for the closure on massive product liability lawsuits, which it says destroyed the company.

The litigation that the company was referring to stemmed from more than 75 known incidents of consumers being severely burned or even killed when a Blitz gas can exploded. A total of 14 people have burned to death as a result of Blitz gas cans, six of whom where children. Given that millions upon millions of the gas cans are still in existence in people’s garages and sheds, that number will likely increase.

The company blames its demise on a handful of greedy law firms who targeted it with product liability claims. One of the managers of Blitz was quoted at the time of the plant closing saying how frustrating it was to be the target of so much abuse. The facts, however, differ starkly from what Blitz would have outsiders believe.

In reality, the company’s fall started because the company ignored overwhelming evidence, including internal research, which showed their gas cans could lead to explosions due to a manufacturing defect. Their own research showed how the gas cans could essentially turn into giant flamethrowers under the right circumstances. Even more shocking is that the company knew about a potential fix, but chose to save a few pennies rather than make small changes.

Experts say that the primary danger posed by the Blitz gas cans was that they were lacking a tiny, four-cent piece of metal. Blitz gas cans did not contain a flame arrestor, a simple piece of mesh that goes over the nozzle of the gas can and helps trap fumes in the can while gasoline is poured out. The technology is nothing new; in fact, the technique was first developed hundreds of years ago. But Blitz, along with several other manufacturers, chose not to install the devices and pocket the extra four cents.

The company chose to ignore an important problem and others paid the terrible price for their disregard. In one case, a three-year-old boy accidentally knocked over a Blitz gas can while putting away his sister’s tricycle. The vapors that had built up in the can were ignited by a water heater and flashed back into the gas can, causing a massive explosion that burned over half the boy’s body. Tragically, a four-cent flame arrestor would have prevented the explosion. In another case, a fireman was filling up his chain saw when his Blitz gas can exploded, putting him in a coma for four months. Another man, a member of a Porsche racing team who understood how to handle gasoline, was thrown through his barn when his Blitz can exploded while he was filling up his lawnmower.

Portraying the attorneys who attempted to get justice for horrifically injured clients as responsible for the Blitz meltdown is ridiculous. The Blitz affair, rather than serve as an example of the civil justice system run amok, shows what happens when things go right. The episode demonstrates precisely what is supposed to happen when companies make flawed products and then choose to sell them to unsuspecting consumers.

Here's a news report from CBS discussing the Blitz USA gas can explosion issue:

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

2 Comments

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  1. sara says:
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    Of course you forgot to mention the “arrestors” have not been proven to prevent all fires associated with gas cans. If you want to talk about Blitz not telling the whole story then maybe you should look at yourself. Educate yourself on all sides readers. Don’t let someone tell you what to believe

  2. Clint McGee says:
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    Wow… Talk about bias. And You probably pal around with Johm Edwards too.