Contrary to what the company wants the general public to believe, Blitz USA went out of business because it refused to spend approximately $1 for a “flame arrestor” to make its gas cans safe. As a result, innocent people were seriously injured or killed. Since 2004, at least 60 lawsuits have been filed against Blitz USA claiming its gas cans were susceptible to “flashback” explosions caused when gasoline vapors outside the cans ignited and followed the vapor trail back into the container. Installing the “flame arrestor” would have prevented the explosions.
A company whistleblower testified at one trial that Blitz destroyed documents related to engineering studies the company had done on flame arrestors dating back to 2004. Engineers actually provided the company with specifications for a flame arrestor for the gas cans, but plans to retrofit the cans was scrapped when the company was sold to Kinderhook. Now, the US Chamber of Commerce is trying to convince Americans that Blitz is the victim.
The Chamber recently hired a documentary filmmaker to shoot footage of tearful workers losing their jobs when the lights went out at Blitz. The 30-second commercial aims to illustrate the consequences of abusive lawsuits, but what about the innocent victims who were burned, scarred, and maimed for life or lost a loved one? Why is there no mention of the innocent victims? If there is lawsuit abuse here, it is perpetrated by Blitz and its defense attorneys. Abuse of the litigation process is far more prevalent on the defense side of a case than it is on the plaintiff side of a case.
Don't believe me? Well, as Joe Biden said during the recent VP debate, “use your common sense, folks”. Plaintiff attorneys work on a contingency fee basis; there is no financial benefit to filing and pursuing a “frivolous” or worthless case. Who benefits from that? On the other hand, defense attorneys work on an hourly fee basis and corporate defendants earn money on invested dollars not paid timely to plaintiffs. Thus, defendants and defense attorneys receive direct financial benefit from engaging in defense lawsuit abuse, engaging in “delay, deny, confuse and refuse” tactics. Get it?
Blitz is not out of business because of “frivolous lawsuits;” the company is out of business because of its own bad behavior. First, it manufactured a dangerously defective gas can. Then, after being made aware of the dangers and being presented with an inexpensive and easy fix, Blitz chose inaction and chose to ignore its own test results. Blitz USA chose to disregard safety and save the mere $1 per can needed to fix the problem. To Blitz USA, human life was worth less than $1 per can. And now, because of its blind hatred for plaintiff trial lawyers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce portrays Blitz as the victim?! Does it really want to stand for the proposition that it OK for Blitz to kill, maim and injure innocent citizens without providing fair compensation? Does the U.S. Chamber also value human life at less than a buck a can?
I am not surprised that the Chamber of Commerce would finance such a commercial; its goal, for a long time now, has been to protect corporate profits, regardless of who gets hurt to produce them. This commercial is just another tactic in a long-term campaign to persuade legislators to grant virtual immunity to negligent corporations. The Chamber has long campaigned, with significant assistance from the Republican Party, to prevent ordinary citizens from holding negligent corporations accountable for their negligence and deliberate bad conduct, while depriving innocent citizens of their constitutional rights.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, big business, and insurance companies spend millions of dollars to convince the public that the civil justice system is broken, that “lawsuit abuse” is hurting corporate America. Tort reform has always been about protecting corporations and insurance companies and keeping those who are severely injured from receiving fair compensation. Tort reform tramples on your constitutional right to trial by jury and leaves you with insufficient means to pursue justice. Trial lawyers do not pursue innocent companies; there is no economic incentive to do so. In pursuing those manufacturers of dangerous and defective products, trial lawyers are seeking to enhance the cause of safety by making it expensive to make unsafe products. Simple, huh? When offered the choice between reasonable compensation for death, a serious or catastrophic injury, on the one hand, or having never been injured or seeing their loved one perish in an accident, every plaintiff, every plaintiff, would choose the latter.
Scepter, a Toronto-based company, recently finalized the purchase of Blitz USA and all its assets; it plans to reopen the Miami plant in the spring. It also plans to rehire many of Blitz’s 117 laid-off workers. Scepter admits that it does not use flame arrestors on cans made in Canada. Hopefully, Scepter will put safety first and install “flame arrestors” on all gas cans before these newly manufactured cans hit store shelves. Hopefully, it will realize that there is no long term financial benefit to producing an unsafe can. Look how it worked for Blitz!
Fellow citizens: Stand up for your rights and the rights of all citizens, able or disabled, healthy or infirm. Tell the US Chamber of Commerce, corporations, insurance companies, and other tort reform advocates stop lying to the American people. Shielding corporations and government entities from liability or damages is not the solution. Manufacturing safe products is the key. Immediately recalling and fixing dangerous products is preferred over covering up the defect and defending the lawsuits. It is also good business and much cheaper in the long run. It is time for the Chamber and corporate America to help to reduce lawsuits by using their power and money to improve safety rather than shamelessly trying to reduce court access and compensation to victims. Every concerned American should contact their local and state representatives to stop this heinous behavior. Stand up for safety and your right to pursue civil justice. We, all of us, are one accident and injury from being a victim of corporate negligence. Tort reform makes all of those unfortunate souls victims a second time.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.