You may never have heard of Blitz USA, but if you have a red portable gasoline can in your garage, chances are you own their product.
At its peak, Blitz USA, the 50-year-old producer of three out of every four portable gas cans nationwide, employed 350 people in the small town of Miami, Oklahoma. But over the last decade, a wave of costly litigation took its toll, and lawsuits finally drove the company out of business.
Around the turn of the century, Blitz came into the crosshairs of the product liability lawyers who saw opportunity in the handful of injuries that came almost exclusively from misuse or miss-storage of the gas can. What started as one lawsuit against Blitz quickly ballooned to more than 40.
The plaintiffs’ cases hinged upon the theory that Blitz cans were liable to combust in the course of use around an open flame.
“The lawyers that are suing us have a theory that the gas vapor, when somebody pours it on a fire, goes up inside the can and the can explodes,” says Blitz CEO Rocky Flick. While Blitz’ experts were never able to replicate the “exploding gas can,” it was clear that misusing a gasoline can by pouring fuel on an open flame could cause serious injuries. “There’s no way to protect somebody pouring gas on a fire,” says Flick.
As the cases mounted and Blitz was forced to empty more than $30 million from its coffers in defense and damage fees, the writing was on the wall. Blitz had to declare bankruptcy, forcing 117 of its remaining employees out of work.
“It was a case where we couldn’t fight them all,” explains Flick. Blitz USA finally closed its doors in August 2012.
The Blitz closing, beyond the loss of good jobs, sent more than 400 people into the Miami, Oklahoma community with no health insurance.
Trish Deaton, a long-time employee of Blitz, was one of the workers to receive the bad news.
“I will be losing my [health] insurance,” says Deaton. Nick, her husband who is battling Stage Four colon cancer, was also among those affected.
The short documentary film chronicling Blitz’ last days, The Last Week: How Lawsuits Doomed an American Icon, follows the painful end of Blitz USA. Viewers will see the devastation wreaked on one American manufacturing company and the impact lawsuits—and the plaintiffs’ lawyers who brought them—have on real lives in one small town.
Blitz USA is gone, but the lesson of the devastating impact lawsuits can have on real lives and real communities lives on in this moving film.