By Michael Seinberg
On December 28, 2005 a man named David Calder inserted the nozzle of a $3.99 gas can into his wood stove in an effort to perk up his fire, a move he later admitted was “stupid”. Calder, who should have been nominated for a Darwin Award, was also not much of a reader as the container itself had “KEEP AWAY FROM FLAMES, PILOT LIGHTS, STOVES, HEATERS, ELECTRIC MOTORS, AND OTHER SOURCES OF IGNITION.” impressed into the plastic.
The result of Calder’s self-professed idiocy severely burned him and killed his two-year-old daughter. But rather than being charged criminally, Calder filed suit against the maker of the gas can, Blitz USA for not creating a can that was stupidity proof and he WON $4 million in the suit. The judge in the case refused to throw the case out and refused to let Blitz argue the “state of the art” product liability defense or argue that it complied with government regulations for the manufacture of gas cans.
This sadly was the final straw for Blitz. The largest maker of gas cans in the US liquidated under bankruptcy proceedings and closed its Oklahoma factory, costing 117 more American jobs. At one point, Blitz made some 75% of the gas cans sold in the US, so now we’ll have to get our cans from someplace like China where the concept of product liability simply doesn’t exist. I’d like to see what happens to a trial lawyer who goes after a Chinese company when their shoddy product blows up.
But make no mistake here. This suit was the breaking-point that destroyed Blitz, but it was one of a long line of such suits. “This is a sad day in the 46-year history of Blitz and for our 117 employees,” said Blitz USA president and CEO Rocky Flick in a statement. “We appreciate the support of our employees and their families in our efforts to reorganize and develop a viable business plan. Unfortunately, we were not able to address the costs of the increased litigation associated with our fuel containment products.”
The company says it has been saddled by high costs from litigation “characterized by individuals using gas to start or accelerate a fire,” according to a release. In other words, idiots killed the company.
Greedy trial lawyers and uneducated juries have once again worked hand in claw to enrich the lawyers to the detriment of everyone else from customers to workers. If this isn’t a clarion call for tort reform I can’t imagine what is.