Litigation kills gas can manufacturer

by Walter Olson on July 14, 2012

An American producer is bankrupt because it couldn’t idiot-proof its product sufficiently to ward off the attentions of our product liability system. The next gas can you buy will probably come from somewhere like China, whose manufacturers are apt to be less reachable by American plaintiffs. [Point of Law]

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{ 15 comments }

1 marco73 07.14.12 at 10:37 am

Well, if we don’t have available gas cans this summer/hurricane season, maybe we’ll just use Walmart bags to carry gas. There are no warning labels on the bags not to use them to carry gasoline, and they may leak volatile fuel all over the place, but hey, in case of an accident think of the deep pockets.

2 Hugo S. Cunningham 07.14.12 at 11:43 am

Romney is being hammered for the alleged “outsourcing” proclivities of Bain Capital, where he remained the “sole stockholder” even after he supposedly yielded day-to-day management in 1999.

The Republicans could start running ads on the “Obama Outsourcing program,” citing travesties like this one. They could also contrast shuttered coal plants in this country with new coal plants being built with our tax dollars in South Africa.

3 Bill Poser 07.14.12 at 11:10 pm

In this case the container wasn’t even the problem. The problem was the idiot’s decision to pour a lot of gasoline into a stove. The result would have been the same whether he had poured from a gas can, a tin pail, or a birch bark basket.

I don’t understand how this got to a jury.

4 Canvasback 07.15.12 at 1:27 am

Bad outcome to be sure. But, I had to buy a gas can this spring and it’s the most awkward, unusable one I’ve ever seen. It must have been designed by attorneys, not humans. You can’t pour out of it so it’s empty and you can’t close it so it protects the nozzle. If the Chinese can do a better job – well, I’d buy one.

5 Frank 07.16.12 at 9:53 am

““Obama Outsourcing program,” citing travesties like this one”

Sure, because plainly this outcome in a private lawsuit likely brought in 2006 is the fault of the Obama administration. Way to pick up on that – most would not have made the connection.

6 Hugo S. Cunningham 07.16.12 at 11:28 am

@Frank–

Which party gets more money from trial lawyer associations, and which party has been more obstructive to tort reform?
I would be curious to know who appointed the judge who let this verdict go though, and which political causes he and the plaintiff’s lawyer have been most generous to recently. From time to time, a supposed conservative Republican drops a clanger in such cases, but more likely not.

On the other hand, some less flagrant (though still unfair) damage verdicts might be avoided if we had universal health care insurance. Europeans do not need to rely on predatory lawsuits as (a wasteful and unfair) backstop for coverage of medical expenses.

7 Anonymous Attorney 07.16.12 at 12:58 pm

“But, I had to buy a gas can this spring and it’s the most awkward, unusable one I’ve ever seen.”

Canvasback, let me tell you… I cannot STAND the “modern” plastic gas cans. These things have the most impossible open/close system, an unworkable cap contraption combinging twisiting, a pump and locking mechanisms that seem practically designed to confound the user and prevent gas from coming out. I’m told that the old metal cans with a simple spout and screw cap are now unlawful — federal regulations. I wonder if it’s illegal to trade in those things on ebay, who knows. I’d like to get one, though.

8 Ron Miller 07.16.12 at 4:36 pm

Oh, I think someone who can make a decent gas can will come in and fill the void in the market pretty quick. I don’t project long lines at the gas station can store.

Hugo, have you really reviewed the evidence in this case and figure out how a judge should rule on a motion notwithstanding the verdict? Really?

9 proofreader 07.16.12 at 4:44 pm

Personal responsibility is extinct. No matter how stupid your action, someone else is always to blame.

10 Hugo S. Cunningham 07.17.12 at 3:02 pm

@Ron Miller

In medical malpractice law, there is the doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur” (“the thing speaks for itself.”): eg. If a septic surgical sponge is found stitched into a post-operative patient whose condition deteriorated, you don’t have to provide witnesses on exactly who stitched it in and when.

I see a judicial “res ipsa loquitur” when a gas-can manufacturer is sued into oblivion on behalf of someone who poured gasoline into a burning stove.

11 Ron Miller 07.17.12 at 4:00 pm

First of all, res ipsa is not a malpractice doctrine. It is a tort doctrine that is used sparing in medical malpractice cases.

Second, one lawsuit did not push this company over the edge. Many did. Do you really think that no company should ever go out of business because of litigation regardless of how bad of a product they make?

12 Robert Curry 07.17.12 at 4:16 pm

I think companies making BAD, or DEFECTIVE products should suffer, but WHERE is the evidence that that was the case HERE??

13 Ron Miller 07.17.12 at 4:56 pm

I can’t get up to speed on these cases without seeing the discovery and pleadings. But I’m addressing the specific point made by Hugo that is essentially if a company is run out of business, ispo facto a judge somewhere did something wrong. Because that is not the case and I think you agree with me, Robert.

14 Hugo S. Cunningham 07.17.12 at 10:01 pm

No, Counsellor, that was not my point. I agree that makers of defective products should go out of business. My point was that this product was not defective– that there is no gas tank that can prevent gasoline from exploding when poured onto a fire. Maybe in the future they can design a gas tank with a built-in robot that can detect danger and refuse to open the spout, but such technology does not exist yet, certainly not in an affordable form.

15 peter 08.13.12 at 3:38 am

@ Hugo. Hear hear.

Annoying when someone picks up on your point, uses it to twist a new unsupportable point and uses that to ‘prove’ you are wrong. Called a strawman i believe.

It seems almost impossible to show some lawyers why ‘defective product’ is not the same as ’caused the death’.

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