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Wal-Mart has agreed to contribute approximately $25 million, slightly more than 15 percent of the proposed $161 million that would settle dozens of lawsuits on behalf of consumers allegedly injured or killed in explosions resulting from Blitz plastic gas cans.  Are they contributing enough?  Are they taking responsibility for their negligent actions?

There have been at least 80 lawsuits filed on behalf of individuals severely burned after alleged explosions of gas vapor mixtures inside plastic gas cans.  Wal-Mart said it has been named as a defendant in 24 of those claims.  The lawsuits allege that Blitz and Wal-Mart knowingly sold a defective product that could explode and produce catastrophic and sometimes fatal injuries, yet refused to add a flame arrester – an inexpensive piece of mesh costing less than $1 to make the cans safer.  Blitz and other manufacturers have argued that any alleged injuries were caused by the users’ own negligence and misuse, and that the cans were not at fault.

Although Wal-Mart has agreed to contribute toward the settlement, it still refuses to acknowledge any safety defect in the Blitz cans and insist the manufacturer is responsible for product safety.  Diane Breneman, an attorney who has represented about 30 plaintiffs in these cases, claims Wal-Mart should have used its power years ago; the company was involved in lawsuits involving Blitz cans dating back to 2005.

“If you repeatedly are sued in cases and the allegations are people are being severely burned or burning to death, you can’t hide your head in the sand. You’re making money off of those cans. You have a responsibility at that point to investigate it, to do whatever is necessary, if you’re going to continue to sell the product.”

What I find interesting is when Wal-Mart customers complained about the gas can spout leaking, the retailer asked Blitz to make a design change. Yet when consumers are seriously injured or killed due to explosions, deaths that could have been prevented so inexpensively, what does Wal-Mart do?  Company officials make a joke about it; you can see it here.

Corporate greed is, once again, outweighing the need to provide a safe product to consumers.  As long as this industry refuses to protect consumers from its products, it should not be protected from liability.  A hearing on the proposed Wal-Mart settlement is set for early next year.

Headline Image Source: (CC BY 2.0) flickr/Noah Sussman

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