NBC News discovered this settlement proposal in bankruptcy court documents for Blitz USA, a company that had been the largest manufacturer of gas cans in the U.S.
Lawsuits filed against Blitz and Walmart allege that both companies knowingly sold an unsafe product. Specifically, the complaints charge that Blitz refused to add a “flame arrester” — a simple mesh disk or plastic disk with holes that is intended to reduce the likelihood of a flame traveling back into the can and causing an explosion.
The former Walmart buyer who had been responsible for purchasing gas cans testified in 2010 that even after the retailer had begun being named in explosion-related lawsuits, it did no tests on the products, leaving that responsibility in the hands of the manufacturers. A rep for the company admits to NBC that it did not ask Blitz to investigate the explosions or consider adding flame arresters.
But an attorney for numerous plaintiffs in these suits believes Walmart, which has been known to use its buying power to compel suppliers to make material changes to their products — and indeed Walmart did request that Blitz change its spouts after complaints about leakage — should have demanded that Blitz provide safer gas cans.
“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,” explains the attorney.
A rep for Walmart released the following videotaped segment to NBC. It should be pointed out that the rep refers to the Consumer Product Safety Commission as the Consumer Protection Safety Commission…
Walmart says it is “waiting on experts,” like the CPSC and ASTM to determine whether flame arresters should be required.
In 2011, the CPSC chose to not require flame arresters on gas cans, points out Walmart. However, after NBC News reports that the Commission has recently reviewed the data and is asking manufacturers to now add flame arresters.
The folks at ASTM announced last week that 4 out of the 12 flame arrester designs it has tested effectively prevented flames from reaching the inside of the gas can.
As part of the settlement, none of the defendants are admitting they did anything wrong. A number of the incidents involved in these lawsuits included people pouring gasoline directly from the can onto a lit fire. The manufacturers and other defendants have maintained that this is not a product safety issue, but a matter of a consumer using the product in a dangerous fashion for which it was not intended.