The Last Week: How Lawsuits Doomed an American Icon

 

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.

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37 Responses

  1. Jesse Melendez says:

    This is a real crime committed by bottom feeding lawers, who have manipulated the court system out of shear greed. And they manage to put a well managed 50 year old company out of business and place more people out of work and send more jobs over seas.

  2. reuben says:

    Bet these plaintiff Lawyers are happy with their work!! Thousands of lives devasteted, families broken, people with no health insurance etc! Its shameful. Litigation by Loophall I call it.

  3. linda robinson says:

    My wonderful brother-in-law worked at Blitz, and such awful news when he lost his job for lawsuit tyranny! What’s wrong with our justice system? I am sorry for what happened to the those in the lawsuit but they were complete idiots, and no amount of payment will fix stupid. Now so many out of work….

  4. Steve says:

    This is the epitome of ridiculous. These lawyers are trying to FIX STUPID. It cannot be done.

    There have to be at least a few judges left with common sense who have the guts to kick these cases out of court.

  5. sandra garcia says:

    everyone with any sence knows not to store flamable products by heat duh leave this company alone, i have one of these gas cans for yrs now no problem

  6. KnowitALL says:

    Um hello people! The owners of this company knew they were killing people by not adding a 10 cent screen to prevent flashback and the tank exploding. These were not all idiots that dumped gas on a fire.

    They knew the cans exploded for YEARS!: http://www.blitzusa.com/recall.htm

    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.

  7. KnowitALL says:

    Watch Dan Rather’s report on this company’s can fro 2008.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0tcIwR66pU

  8. Ginger Kerchner says:

    This is one horrid example of how stupidity, lack of common sense and total greed has destroyed a business and many lives. WHAT A SIN! When is enough going to be enough with this type of garbage. These people had jobs, they worked. Now I bet we import the gas cans from a foreign country. How very sad.

  9. Julie says:

    It is sickening to see this happening. Read the warning label on a hair dryer and it says “Do Not Use This Product While Sleeping.” Who in their right mind would do do.

    These parasite lawyers need to be treated the way most parasites are dealt with.a

  10. Lois Karasek says:

    This is just another example of the total loss of common sense in this country and the unmitigated greed of lawyers. No thought is given to the REAL VICTIMS in a matter like this: the employees. As if we don’t already have enough unemployment in this country, stupidity and lawyers want to make sure we become a country with 100% unemployment while they get richer and richer. THINK, people.

  11. Charles Lauer says:

    The lawyers need to stay in their own backyard and leave the working people alone. Because of stupid people , doing stupid things a lot of people are now out of a job. The best thing to do would re-open the factory . Let the stupid ones fend for themselves!

  12. yesman says:

    Now tel the people the real story Flick.

  13. JOHN says:

    People who sue and lose should have to pay court and lawyer costs
    I think this would stop may lawsuits.

  14. Paul Gerling says:

    It’s a shame that a jury would allow this to happen.

  15. Sharron says:

    I, for one, am praying that this non-sense stop. Yes, companies and individuals should do what they need to do legaly and ethicaly and to keep/protect their jobs and families. I encourage everyone to pray and ask God to deter these things from happening due to folk irresponsible actions and even to deal with the minds of attorneys that take on these cases, no doubt, for the money. Continually in my prayers

  16. Karen says:

    Doesn’t it have a warning right on the can to not use near fire? This story really angers me…that these lawyers blame the manufacturer for operator error! Something is seriously wrong with this legal system.

    For all those years…no law suits. Then about 7 or 8 years ago it started. Look at the lawlessness and disregard of rules, regulations and respect for authority society has adopted. No wonder the suits started just 7 years ago…most people would heed warnings about safety before then.

    I am so, so sorry for the owners and employees of this company. Will be praying for you all.

  17. Vic Bailey says:

    We need to run every lawyer out of our country because of the abuse that have caused and will cause against hard working people! Or better than that put bounties out on them! Semper Fi.

  18. Holly Hart says:

    This is another case of deciding that a manufacturer must warn against every stupid thing a consumer may do with their product, rather than ‘common sense’ ruling.

  19. I am so sorry for all the people who lost their jobs because of this lawyer who was only thinking of their own self…shame on you how can these lawyers sleep at night

  20. mary toney says:

    Watch a Chinese ompany make them and now lawsuits. I have used one of these cans all may life. 64 years old, and never had a problem. O course, I am not stupid enough to pour gas on a fire.

  21. TexasToolMan says:

    Pretty sad to see a company who makes a well known, lasting product that last for years an years be shut down by ignorant losers trying to make an easy buck. I grew up in Enid, I still do not understand why people are so “sue happy” in Oklahoma still..

    Makes ya wonder who they gonna try an sue when the water runs dry ;)

  22. Suzanne says:

    To KnowItAll: There is no flame arrestor or any other gadget that can stop fumes from igniting. When anyone removes the lid from any gasoline container, it begins to emit fumes. These fumes are flammable themselves. Blitz and many other gas can manufactures did not add a spark arrestor because it is just false security. People will believe they can do anything with gasoline containers and would find out quickly this arrestor would not keep gasoline from burning and fumes from igniting. Do you realize that most all of the cases against Blitz USA were won by Blitz. It is the lawyers fees and the money spent to fight these law suits that bankrupted them. Lawyers made millions and continue to live off of these types of law suits. Dan Rather is not an expert on gas can manufacturing nor on the flame arrestors and this video was made without allowing any gas can manufacture to voice what engineers and fuel experts said. A flame arrestor is a false sense of safety and should not be used. This is why most fuel container manufactures do not use them.

  23. emma lacsamana says:

    I was 15 years old and married with a 7 month old baby girl!! I misused a gasoline can while trying to start a fire for heat!! My baby died in that fire!! It’s sad that people will do almost anything for money!!

  24. Rick Merlin says:

    The so-called safety device, the flame-arrester, that ignorant and greedy legal people (lawyers AND judges) as well as the so-called consumer protection organazations keep talking about as a preventitive for all the incidents (NOT accidents, since they were willfully caused thru intention, failure to follow instructions, or just plain stupidity) would not have prevented the events or injuries. I have industrial experience with flame-arresters and know what they can and cannot do. The examples shown on Dan Rather Reports are over simplified and do not reflect the actual incidents. The other problem is the bleeding heart juries that for the most part are selected because they are just as stupid as the plaintiffs. It has also been proven that a safety device like the flame arrester would restrict the flow of gas out the can, causing longer fill time, and would be circumvented by removal or adulterated (a screwdriver jammed through it) by these same people that misuse the gasoline in the first place. I learned of this from testamony from two experts with the studies that they did when I was on a jury trial (not related to the Blitz gas can) where a circumvention of this type occured and a injury occurred because of it. Fortunately, we found for the defendant, or I would have done all I could to hang the jury to a mistrial. As a wise person once said, all the safety devices in the world won’t stop stupidity (or something along that line.)

  25. Lewelyn Fidler says:

    Example on how when corruption comes from the “top”. For litigation current is who “Eric Holder” the past few years the example he has set and the Boss and his example. In the army I have seen several examples of leadership good and the bad so I can see the comparison. Things like this story, Americans loosing their Job, benefits and the Impact in the community. People “just do not care” as long the Dollar in “their” pocket and only “their”. Trial lawyers (liers) the Judges that don’t care about people that “allow” litigation to go to their courts. BUT

    How can you create a production “any” product that will compensate for “Human Stupidity” in this day when the word “Common Sence” is getting it’s mileage to remove rights from those who are “responsible” the ire-responsible are paid!

    If this is to stop then YOU need to not just “speak” a piece on this bulletin but “educate” your friends family to responsibly elect and to hold those whom get elected to Common Sence BUT do we ‘redefine” the dictionary, this is not a “grey area” that it now has been, I can agree that we do not agree so that is the end of the story, wrong Black and White no matter how the word “Stupid” is defined, your still to dumb to hold a can of gasoline with a “lit match” or physics is not tough in our schools any more, why not so Trial lawyers can “sue, sue, sue for nobody IS responsible for their own actions but it is the responsibility of people like in this story for it!

    so moral of my story? pay attention to whom you elect, make sure the “Dog Catcher, you elect, really IS going to catch “”stray dogs”…..

  26. Jan Colgrove says:

    This makes me want to puke, first of all stupid can’t be fixed, anyone who is stupid enough to put gas on fire then file a lawsuit for their stupidity is what so called lawyers, in other words educated idiots, thrive on. An intelligent individual would not have used gas on fire. You wonder how any lawyer can sleep at night. Hard working people don’t have time to file lawsuits. I do not understand why lawyers represent these people other than to pad their pockets. They certainly do not care about truth, just money.

  27. Reno says:

    Other comments show a complete failure to understand the dynamic at work here.

    Mark Twain described it in “Life on the Mississippi.” Organized riverboat pilots were able to force ship owners to give them raises – but the owners were then able to reap a windfall by passing the increase (plus more) on to the customers, who were all to happy to blame the “Union.”

    Here the lawyers were expecting to share the windfall with Blitz, when Blitz passed the increase on to consumers. Blitz simply didn’t play along.

    The lawyers may also have been subsidized by Chinese interests – for it is China that is now making the gas cans.

    Sue the Chinese firms? Good luck.

  28. Jim Jensen says:

    The real problem is that these Blitz USA gasoline cans are designed poorly and the consumer doesn’t want them. They hold gas *in* very well; but they don’t let the gas *out*. So they’re next to useless, for example, for refueling a vehicle, simply because you need one hand to press the button, your other hand to press the trigger, your third hand to hold the five gallons up, and your fourth hand to center the outlet into the gas tank trap. I blame Blitz for only designing to the government standards of keeping gasoline INSIDE the can; they never designed for consumers to pour the gasoline out.

  29. iws says:

    testing this response field

  30. Mark says:

    Hey, knowitall, you actually believe Dan Rather??? All he was looking for was hype. What evokes more horror than someone on fire? Nothing. Hey let’s do a segment on this.

    How did the can explode? Did it just suddenly blow up? No, they poured gas on a fire and it blew up in their face – the can had nothing to do with it.

  31. Jesse, I agree, the only thing they think about is how much money goes to their pockets. Sack all the lawyers and send them to china. Then the jobs will come home.

  32. Tom says:

    I’ve seen the 60 minutes piece in the link below, and each tragedy was a result of human error. The fact is that millions use gas cans every day without incident, and have for over a century. Can they be improved? Sure, but all it takes is a few big dollar tort actions to bankrupt a company.

    We have a choice. We can either put our emotions aside, accept the fact that human error occurs and assign at least part blame where it belongs, or, we can persist in our futile attempt to idiot-proof the country, and make trial lawyers rich and ourselves poor all at the same time.

  33. Kathleen Jimenez says:

    Ideas about all the lawsuits on your site. What can we do about this. This wasn’t a huge company but plenty of people depended on it for their livelihood. This has to STOP!!

  34. Mark L Rickerson says:

    If you pour gasoline on an open flame, WTF do you expect is going to happen?
    Scumbag product liability lawyers will “create a case” in order to line their greedy pockets at the expense of anyone who gets in their way!
    The judges who hear these cases should be seriously reprimanded for even entertaining these types of frivolous cases…..this is wrong on so many levels, and shows a serious decline in our society at a moral level!!

  35. Gerald P. Sturgeon says:

    This must be reversed and give us back our Gas Cans!

  36. Lou Boudreau says:

    Don’t forget the judges. Why can’t they dismiss these cases before they even get to the point of everybody spending the big bucks to defend them selves from the people with no common sense. Surely the judges can see what’s going on.

  37. Dawn says:

    We need tort reform in this country! When do you reward the stupid? What judge would award anyone money when the experts could not duplicate the cause??? This is what is wrong with America. People blame others for their own stupidity. Sorry Blitz USA employees, looks like the stupid win again. Maybe I should sue Coke for my problems too. Yeah, it sounds that stupid!

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