Those who attack the civil justice system in the name of so-called “tort reform” frequently don’t bother with facts.
That has been proven again by the Wall Street Journal in an editorial on gas can litigation. Had the Journal’s editorial writers done a little bit of homework before making their argument that a manufacturer of gas cans was being picked on by lawyers, they would have learned about the 50-cent fix that could have saved thousands from serious burns and death.
The consumer gas cans manufactured by Blitz USA are lacking something called a “flame arrestor.” It’s a simple thing: just a piece of mesh that goes over the nozzle and contains the fumes in the can while the gasoline pours. Professional-grade gas cans have them. In fact, flame arrestors have been used industrially for more than 200 years. But Blitz and other makers have not been installing them on the plastic gas cans they sell to consumers.
That’s the real story. Why would any company not provide an inexpensive fix to a problem that has killed many Americans and afflicted others with excruciatingly painful and permanently disfiguring injuries? Why did Blitz choose to continue selling this defective product and the expensive litigation they knew would follow rather than put these inexpensive flame arrestors in place and save lives?
The Journal places blame for these injuries on the people whose lives have been permanently altered:
“They could sue Blitz when someone poured gas on a fire (for instance, to rekindle the flame) and the can exploded, alleging that the explosion is the result of defects in the can's design as opposed to simple misuse of the product. Plaintiffs were burned, and in some cases people died.”
What the Journal ignores is that severe injuries can result from using these cans in perfectly routine ways like refilling a lawnmower, a chainsaw, or even merely from static electricity by walking past a gas can. At least one person a month is injured by these cans, on average. Some of those injured have millions of dollars in medical bills.
The fact is this is not an industry that has done much for safety on its own. Child-proof gas caps weren’t even installed on gas cans until a couple of years ago, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered manufacturers to do it. As long as this industry refuses to protect its consumers from its products, it should not be protected from liability.
The Wall Street Journal editorial omits these incredibly important facts and focuses on how Blitz is now filing for bankruptcy. But this is exactly how our civil justice system is supposed to work. When companies make flawed products and knowingly sell them to unsuspecting Americans, when they fail to look out for the welfare of their customers, they must be held accountable.