Shutting down of Blitz USA (Gasoline Can Manufacturer): Tort Hell or Justice?

A recent Wall Street Journal editoral told of Blitz USA, the manufacturer for most Gasoline/Petrol cans in the USA, shutting down due to losing court cases due to product liability law. Users were pouring gasoline on fires and dying in the resulting inflammation. Plaintiff’s alleged failure to have sufficient warning and bad design.

The paper presented it as an example of tort hell, trial lawyers ruining a solid American company.

Does anyone know about this? I didn’t see much impartial analysis on this case at all.

Is this tort hell or justice to burn victims?

Sounds like tort hell. Surprising that you can still buy a gas can, or ladder, or anything else that can be harmful if improperly used. This one like other similar cases was decided by a jury. If the government allows you sue someone who makes the rope you hang yourself with, there’s no escape from a jury award based on sympathy. Apparently they had paid settlements in these nonsense suits for a while, but eventually they were targetted by lawyers and the cost of fighting these suits and the payouts were too much. Luckily I just purchased one of those Eagle metal cans highlighted in a recent pit thread. The Blitz cans probably sucked, but only to the extent that you should get your money back if you sued them.

Nowadays whenever I see one of these things, I think that it can’t possibly be as stupid as the company’s press release says it is.

And after a little googling: There was a lawsuit in Utah where someone was using gasoline as an accelerant and the can exploded and killed his kid. The jury concluded something like, “yes the guy was doing something dumb, but Blitz’s own market research concluded that that dumb use case was something that was actually done a lot by their customers, and a small change to the design of the container could have prevented that from being a problem”.

Yeah, if someone is stupid enough to pour gas on a fire and the container catches on fire and starts a secondary fire, that’s the dumb user’s damn fault. But if your gas container is designed such that it is regularly exploding and maiming/killing people, then maybe you should have thought about designing a container that won’t inflict so much damage on your customers, stupid as they might be.

What could possibly stop people from killing themself or others with a gas can unless it has no openings to pour gas in to start with? What can be done to stop people from falling off of ladders? What can stop people from injuring others with their cars?

You are asking a gas can manufacturer to prevent all possible injuries from improper use of a gas can, including using it in a manner that is warned against on the can. Not with a label that can come off either. The warning was provided with letters impressed into the can. This is a failure of government to provide a safety standard that would indemnify gas can manufactureres against lawsuits. And that is a result of the people who rail against both tort lawyers and government regulations. The anti-regulation crowd is actually fueling tort hell.

I’m a little wary of the company’s position because Blitz itself makes a big deal about the fact that there have been no other gas can manufacturers in the US since 1966. That makes it sound like this was an industry on the edge, long before tort liability became a major issue.

What does that have to do with the question? Clearly they would still be in business if not for millions of dollars in settlements, awards, and legal costs.

A flame arrestor. “This simple modification, which typically costs no more than 50 cents to add, consists of a small metal device with holes fitted into the spout of a gas container. The arrestor functions by forcing the flame to travel through a channel that is too narrow to allow the flame to pass through. This would keep the remaining gasoline in the can from igniting and exploding.”

Yeah, there’s an unbiased source of information.

This is not the case. We (or rather society, through the legal process) is asking a gas can manufacturer to take action to try prevent some kinds of injuries caused by using the gas can in a way that it is typically used, even if that way of using the gas can is not proper. This is a far cry from “protect us from any way any dingbat could find to injure himself with any object”.

I agree that it’s not a cut-and-dry case, and it seems the jury did temper the award based on the fact that the person getting it was a dumb-ass, but it’s not as obviously crazy as the press releases from the company (and the recreational outrage versions on the internet) make it seem.

If it’s not a profitable industry, then even small economic disruptions may have an outsize effect on it. If their business had been driven to the edge by cheap foreign competition and several years of a bad economy, and litigation was simply the last straw, it may not really be accurate to say that litigation put them out of business.

No. But I don’t doubt that it would have prevented flames from entering the container.

Probably got started when someone saw “inflammable” written on the side of the can and thought they’d use it to put out a fire.

I don’t find it any different in this case.

I don’t trust the company’s press releases anymore than the trial lawyers claims. That does make this one hard to argue.

That doesn’t justify the concept of massive awards to people who damage themselves.

I do. Maybe it would work in some cases, but it would be a small step towards making gas cans safe. Some things are inherently dangerous, and a gas can is one that people should assume the risk for while using. It would be different if gas cans tended to explode while using them for their intended purpose.

Really depends on what jurisdiction you’re in. Clearly, you need to move to a different state, one that has an established rules of civil procedure, a robust adversarial system, and a solid but evolving body of tort law. Of particular importance would be motions for summary judgement and the like for things such as ‘failure to state a cause of action’. Here’s a helpful link you may want to take a look at (link to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). I think you’ll really enjoy Rules 11 and 56, though there are many in there you’ll want to be sure exist in whatever jurisdiction you’re moving to.

Be careful though, if you move to a state that doesn’t allow easy access to filing suit and arbitrarily bars filing without hearings or pleadings–what you seem to be wishing for–then you’re likely to get fucked harder than your intemperate analysis of the judicial system.

Thanks for the cites. I don’t really want to clamp down on torts procedurally. I think this is a case where the government has failed to provide a safety standard that could be used as defense against claims like this.

I also don’t like taking the side of this company that probably made cheap, lousy, dangerous gas cans. So my argument is really about more responsible companies that make better products and still have to waste money on nonsensical claims. And at the same time I have to object to tort reforms that simply limit the plaintiffs ability to recover full damages when they are justified. All that is what makes it tort hell.

I just don’t understand why it’s a bad thing that a company can get sued for something that is dangerous that could have prevented with low cost. People are going to do stupid things. Making them die from it isn’t going to stop them. Paying $0.50 per can might.

There should be a name for this type of outrage-maybe something with “McDonald’s” and/or “Coffee” in it.

I’d need to see some real facts to make that equivalence.

I’m not sure what you’re trying to say is the essential difference between the cases. Both had both a “victim” doing things that were none-too-bright (using gasoline as an accelerant/holding coffee between her legs) combined with a corporation doing things that make the none-too-bright thing more dangerous (making shitty gas cans without a standard safety feature/serving coffee at a temperature at which it’s dangerous to let be in contact with your skin), and both got a jury verdict that was tempered by “it was x% the plaintiff’s fault, so we’re taking x% off the award”, and if I might be so bold as to predict the future, both will be retold over and over again for decades with the plaintiff’s stupidity hammed up, the defendant’s contribution to the problem downplayed, and calls to fix the fucked-up tort system.