Settlement for Gas Can Fire Lawsuits May Result in $161M Fund for Victims
A proposed $161 million settlement could resolve dozens of gas can lawsuits filed against Blitz USA; a former manufacturer of portable, plastic gas containers that has been forced into bankruptcy amid claims of explosions, fires, injuries and deaths associated with their products.
The gas can settlement will be the subject of a hearing early next year. It includes a $25 million contribution by Walmart, once the largest seller of Blitz gas cans. The Walmart contribution accounts for about 15% of the total settlement, after the retailer reportedly sold tens of millions of the Blitz gas cans over the years.
Blitz USA, based in Miami, Oklahoma, was once the nation’s largest gas can manufacturer, but it was driven into bankruptcy and is now defunct primarily due to defective gas can lawsuits filed by victims of explosions linked to its gas cans. There have been at least 80 such lawsuits filed over the last decade, with several dozen also targeting Walmart.
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Many of the complaints accuse the manufacturer of refusing to place a low-cost safety features in the cans, such as a flame arrestors and child safety caps. Many of the complaints allege that serious burns and other injuries may have been avoided if the gas containers had been manufactured safer.
Walmart and Blitz officials have maintained that the explosions were not due to safety problems with the gas cans, but instead were caused by misuse by consumers. Walmart further has stated that it should not be held responsible for the safety of products manufactured by others, indicating that the company relies on the expert opinions of manufacturers on safety issues. However, some lawsuits have included evidence that the retailer knew about problems with the gas can explosions for years, and continued to market and sell the dangerous products.
For years it has been known that a simple safety feature known as a flame arrestor, which costs under 50 cents to add to a gas container, may prevent flames from flashing back into the container. However, many manufacturers do not include flame arrestors in plastic gas cans.
Flame arrestors are designed with small holes in the gas can spout, which is a “technology” that has been around for over 200 years. They were originally designed to prevent explosions when coal miners carrying lanterns entered a packet of gas within a mine. Although many gas cans lack flame arrestors, they are common in a number of different products, including certain bottles of Bacardi Rum.
Following a recent NBC report, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began calling for manufacturers to add flame arrestors to portable gas cans.
According to reports analyzed by the CPSC, at least 11 deaths and more than 1,200 emergency visits since 1998 have been linked to gas can explosions while pouring. More than 100 million plastic gas cans are in circulation within the United States, with about 20 million sold each year.
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