Lawsuit alleges flame arrestor on gas can would have prevented burns

By Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau | Feb 18, 2009

MARSHALL � Three men suffered personal injuries when a plastic fuel container exploded and shot flames and burning gasoline onto each of them.

MARSHALL – Three men suffered personal injuries when a plastic fuel container exploded and shot flames and burning gasoline onto each of them.

The men allege the manufacturer of the plastic fuel container, Blitz USA, should have added a flame arrestor to the container.

Alleging negligence, plaintiffs Chris Gaddy, A. J. McSwain and Chris Raymond filed a product liability suit against Blitz on Feb. 17 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

The plaintiffs allege that Blitz falsely marketed and implied that its product was not defective and was not unreasonably dangerous.

The lawsuit states that at the time the container was marketed, a flame arrestor, "a safety device to prevent flashback of the flames into a fuel container and the subsequent explosion and shooting of the flames and burning gasoline" was readily available.

The plaintiffs argue the container was "unreasonably dangerous" without a flame arrestor and did not have sufficient or adequate warnings and instructions.

The defendant is accused of negligent behavior for allegedly failing to conduct adequate tests on the product, failing to recall or take remedial measures after learning of the defects, failing to retrofit the container, failing to investigate complaints about the defects, failing to investigate other lawsuits involving similar claims and failing to comply with industry standards, customs, and practices.

The plaintiffs, who were all in their 20s at the time of the incident, are seeking damages for medical expenses, physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment, physical disfigurement and loss of earning capacity.

They are also seeking punitive damages alleging the defendant acted with "heedless and reckless disregard for the rights and safety of persons."

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted a task group on the use of flame arresters in gasoline containers on May 31, 2007, in which defendant Blitz USA participated.

Within the meeting's log, a representative of Blitz described the potential problems with the use of flame arresters, by stating that if not properly designed, the device could reduce the fill rate and result in fuel spills and gasoline impurities may eventually clog the flame arrester making the gasoline container useless.

Although in occupational settings flame arresters have been used for many years, those containers are made of metal thus grounding the flame arrester to the metal body of the container.

Consumer gasoline containers are plastic and present the possibility of static charge building as the gasoline passes through the arrester and into the container. Thus static charge build-up could result in a spark when the static is discharged.

The representative went on to describe concern that the inclusion of a flame arrester could "create a false sense of security and may encourage unsafe behaviors with gasoline."

The working task group concluded with the decision to solicit proposals for independent and unbiased testing to better define the problem.

Blitz has not responded to the litigation yet but in similar suits, the defendant admits that Blitz portable plastic consumer gasoline containers do not include commercial OSHA style flame arresters. However, Blitz argues its containers met all ASTM voluntary standards regarding portable plastic consumer gasoline containers or spouts.

At the start of the year, Blitz discontinued spill-proof and self-venting lines of gasoline containers in order to comply with new EPA regulations.

Attorney Don Wheeler of Center is representing the plaintiffs.

A jury trial is demanded.

U.S. District Judge T. John Ward will preside over the litigation.

Case No 2:09cv052

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