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Blitz USA closes Oklahoma factory

| 25 Comments


On December 28, 2005, David Calder tried to start a fire in his wood-burning stove in his trailer home—by inserting the nozzle of a $3.99 gas can into the stove to pour gas onto the fire, which Calder admitted was "stupid." (The container itself had "KEEP AWAY FROM FLAMES, PILOT LIGHTS, STOVES, HEATERS, ELECTRIC MOTORS, AND OTHER SOURCES OF IGNITION." impressed into the plastic; nevertheless, Calder included a failure-to-warn claim in his suit.) The resulting catastrophe killed his two-year-old daughter and severely burned Calder. This was, Calder argued, the fault of Blitz USA, the manufacturer of the gas can, for not including more idiot-proofing, though no gas container could reasonably protect against the idiocy of Calder's actions. A Clinton-appointed federal district judge refused to throw the case out, and refused to let Blitz USA argue the "state-of-the-art" product liability defense or argue that it complied with government regulations for the manufacture of gas cans. A sympathetic jury found millions of dollars of damages, and blamed Blitz USA to the tune of 70% of the damages. So Blitz USA, which used to employ 117 people at a factory in Oklahoma to manufacture about 75% of the gas cans sold in the US, is liquidating in bankruptcy, and Americans will have to get their gas cans from Chinese manufacturers—or resort to even more unsafe containers like milk jugs if there is a gas-can shortage during this year's hurricane season. So trial lawyer greed and a trial-lawyer-friendly judicial appointment has cost jobs, made Americans less safe, and increased carbon emissions from the need to import bulky gas cans from overseas. [Tulsa World via @billchilds; Calder v. Blitz USA 10th Circuit brief]

25 Comments

What does this tell you about the jury pool? We are supposed to be tried by a jury of our peers. These days, I honestly think monkeys would make better jurors. I know a Congress of Baboons wouldn't have gotten us in the mess our elected congress has...

While I agree there are some dummies out there. If the judge wouldn't allow the defense to present the evidence it is the Judge who is at fault. The jury has to make the decision based on the evidence presented.

Personal responsibility is dead. No matter what stupid action you take, someone else is always to blame.

Good grief. Twombly doesn't go nearly far enough.

But even if the judge tilted the table in the plaintiff's favor, we have a can which clearly warned against doing what even a dim-witted plaintiff admitted was "stupid."

Assuming that the summary given above was balanced, I don't think I can see any way I'd have voted to find fault anywhere but with the plaintiff. I've served on juries three times, and each time there were members of the jury almost completely devoid of any critical thinking skills.

I don't know how to fix it, but our current system is broken because we've produced a society where we fail to educate effectively and have removed the concept of personal responsibility for one's actions.

It's really sad that his kid died as a result of his stupidity.

Not the fault of the gas can though, he'd be an idiot no matter what he was pouring his accelerant from.

I'd rather see him charged with the death of his child than some faultless manufacturer bankrupted because of someone who has less sense than one would expect from a primary school child.

But the evidence presented was a gas can with "stupid warning" warnings. The jury is at fault as is the judge.

I was intrigued by this post so I read the decisions issued by Judge Teena Campbell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. The facts of this case, especially the facts concerning the product manufacturer's failure to manufacture and sell a safe product, utilizing available and well-known safety features, are appalling. I have litigated cases in the District of Utah and it is by no means a liberal, left-leaning district court, as Mr. Frank suggests. The defendant was represented by able local lawyers and the case was tried before a jury of Utahans. Mr. Frank does not suggest that the jury received improper instructions or that its verdict in favor of the plaintiff was contrary to the evidence. Mr. Frank cites nothing in Judge Campbell's several published opinions that is contrary to Utah law. I see nothing in the record that would indicate that the Tenth Circuit can, or should, overturn the verdict in this case.

Nonsense, Roddy, utter nonsense.

From the sounds of it, I'd say he was tried by a jury of his peers.

One of the reasons so many manufacturing companies are moving to other countries is because of idiotic rulings such as this one. Seems the people in America can not accept blame no matter what stupid act they decide to do. Now if someone blows themselves up because of their own stupidity or even because a made in China gas can is the cause, just try suing China. Not going to happen. We should hold the judge and the jury accountable. I remember when someone sued a fast food chain because they burned their mouth on a hot pickle. They won. Only in America. We are losing jobs, people are suffering because they can't pay their bills or feed their families and one of the big reasons is stuff like this. It is time our laws change! If someone does stupid stuff and injures themselves or others, they need to be held accountable. This man should be sitting in jail for the murder of his baby. Now he is probably sitting in his million dollar house, driving in his expensive car and eating lobster every night while these innocent employees from Blitz USA cry themselves to sleep because they no longer have a job or health insurance. People we must demand a change in the law that allows this to happen. Not sit by and allow this kind of injustice! Write letters please! Start asking candidates what they think and how they will fix this. If they have no good answer, don't vote for them!!!! We the people have got to start taking care of the people. Our government is not going to do it without us demanding they do so!

Why don't we just take the safety labels off of everything and let this stupidity problem solve itself?

Mr Roddy, it makes no difference if the judge, jury, court or anybody was left or right leaning. If you can't see, by the utter stupidity and sheer total lack of vocabulary to describe this mess, that the system is totally broken and a lot of people in this country have lost any shred of common sense and personal responsibility, then you sir must be one of those lot of people! I understand that judges and juries are instructed to make decisions based on evidence presented, but that is the exact broken part. When good common sense is excluded from evidence, then stupidity ends up looking like a perfectly normal action.

Funny how you don't mention a single one of those "facts" you purportedly read. So what were they and how do they support the rather counter-intuitive notion that there was ANYTHING the can manufacturer could have done

TO STOP AN IDIOT FROM POURING GASOLINE ON A FIRE!

Is the manufacturer of each gasoline can supposed to sell you, along with the can, the services a person to sit in your home and stop you from doing things a ten year old should know not to do?

Roddy writes: "Mr. Frank does not suggest that the jury received improper instructions or that its verdict in favor of the plaintiff was contrary to the evidence. Mr. Frank cites nothing in Judge Campbell's several published opinions that is contrary to Utah law."

You didn't read my post, apparently, where I not only "suggested" that the jury received improper instructions, but identified the specific aspects of Utah law the judge failed to follow. The case never should've gone to the jury.

Prior to Jury selection, the court should clearly define the word, "Peer". "A person who is the equal of another in abilites, social status, etc". Did every member of the jury own or ever use a gas can? Wealthy people probably pay to have their lawns mowed and never used a gas can. Those at the poverty level most likely do not even have a lawn. Elderly persons may have used old fashioned, human-powered, reel-type mowers. Are they, "Peers"?

This is where tort reform and reasonable limits of awards would have come into play and kept the outcome appropriate.

Someone should file a wrongful death suit against Mr. Calder on behalf of his daughter and seek the same amount that was awarded to Mr. Calder and then when they win give that money to all the employees that lost their jobs.

So when I put gasoline in my milk jug and pour it on a fire, can I sue the dairy for no warning to not put gasoline in a milk jug?

If the system is broken then why aren't all lawsuits ridiculously as profound like this one . I don't agree with you on the system being broken. The man in this case said he used the gas can for purposes other than intended. This admission alone tells you he wrongfully used the gas can, so how did the jury arrive at this stupid verdict? He knew it was wrong but did it anyway ? I don't see a problem other than the jury did not go by the facts in this case.

you hit the nail on the head when you said Assuming that the summary given above was balanced,.." "there were members of the jury almost completely devoid of any critical thinking skills."

I find that most accounts are NOT balanced, when something seems suspicious, there is usually something left out. Given what we read, it seems incredible the jury could find that way they did, but I get in any discussions with friends that lack those same skills, they are by and large members of the far right, ignorant of science and dismissive of rational thinking.

I find it humorous that comments I read give me the same thought you had about juries, do these people have any critical thinking skills?

It's easy to anecdotal say it's a pity that company closed, I find it odd that the same people upset over this company defended Romney to the hilt when i business was specifically closing companies to make a profit.

Nothing was left out. If you read the post, you'd see that the jury ruled the way they did because the judge gave the jury a legally incorrect instruction instead pf throwing the case out.

Unfortunately we have a bunch of legal consortiums that thrive on this kind of business. They chase accident victims, entice them to enter into the lawsuit at no up front cost to the victim, and promise some percentage of the winnings. Mr Calder has lost a dear daughter - indeed because of his own admitted stupidity but he is not sitting in a nice house with a big car, he will have next to nothing - the legal consortium has all the money that Blitz and their insurance had to pay and Mr. Calder has a few thousand of the millions collected. The legal consortium now goes on to find the next victim of stupidity. This legal consortium is the problem - it is a sick parasite in our society and is indeed driving American business out of our country.

This was indeed a sad day for this American company as well as all of American industry. As long as courts and juries continue to give huge settlements for things that are obviously operator error and the result of unusual or simply stupid actions the law suits will continue. How long will it take for this country to wake up to what we are doing to ourselves? We are driving off US manufacturer after manufacturer. When will we be happy? When all our goods are manufactured in China and food produced in third world countries?

Oh, I'm thinking of putting my ladder on a slab of ice and paint my house this winter. Anybody know the name of a good lawyer?

So it's the manufacturer's fault for not using known safety features that render its use inefficient? The last time I checked, this was supposed to be a free-market capitalist society and the majority of have the sense not to intentionally abuse or misuse a gas can and do no want these "well known" safety features. What ever happened to self accountability? You simply cannot regulate stupid and you certainly shouldn't hold other people accountable. This idiot should never have tried using gasoline to start a fire in the first place, especially indoors. They make lighter fluid specially for this type of application because it has a much lower (and safer) flash rate. Now I have no choice but to pay a higher price to purchase a gas can that has been rendered practically useless all because this imbecile thought it would be a good idea to light a wood burning stove with highly volatile gasoline. One thing is for sure, it definitely pays to be stupid here in America.

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