Exploding Gas Can Lawsuits

When a young boy knocked over a gas can, a nearby pilot light ignited the fumes and caused an explosion. A toddler died and two people suffered serious injuries. This case was handled all the way through the bankruptcy courts to a resolution.


Speaker: Welcome to Hill Law Firm cases, a podcast discussing real-world cases handled by Justin Hill and the Hill Law Firm. For confidentiality reasons, names and amounts of any settlements have been removed. However, the facts are real, and these are the cases we handle on a day to day basis. Product makers in America are required to make their products so that they’re not unreasonably dangerous and defective for their intended use. Generally that means you design against any sort of dangers.

When you manufacture, you make sure that it’s up to specs and not dangerous and if you can’t get rid of it, then you weren’t against any dangers. A few years ago I represented a family who lost one of their children, a young toddler. Now this young little man was out in the garage while his dad was trimming the hedges by hand, not six feet away. At some point, this little kid and his brother picked up the gas can, and because it was heavy and they were both less than the age of five, it tipped over and when it tipped over, the gas ran and it pooled in the garage.

A water heater nearby turned on, ignited the gas, and the vapors went back into the gas can and the gas can exploded. In the end the father, the older son were both badly burned and the youngest son was burned so bad that he did not survive. We took their case and we represented them against the water heater manufacturer as well as the gas can maker. What the water heater manufacturer and the gas can maker both knew was that they both made products that were unsafe.

The water heater manufacturer knew that if they didn’t put a flame arrestor around the open pilot light that it could ignite fumes from things such as gasoline or other chemical products that are often stored in garages in or around water heaters. On top of that, the gas can manufacturers knew that if they didn’t put a flame arrestor in the spout of their gas can, vapors could migrate and those vapors could get ignited. That flame could go back into the can and explode the entire gas can.

They knew that because early on in some of the depositions before insurance companies got involved, the owner of the company admitted that he had been planning to do that and that he knew the cost was very low. He had quoted the cost and he said it was about a quarter per gas can. 25 cents per gas can to save countless lives. Hundreds if not thousands of people were burned or killed as a result of these exploding gas cans, and the numbers have to be similar for the water heater manufacturers that knew they also had a product that was going to end up burning or killing people.

We represented this family against the gas can manufacturer as well as the water heater manufacturer. The water heater manufacturers settled early. While they never admitted wrongdoing, we had all the trade papers showing they knew that they had a problem and they needed to fix it. As it relates to the gas can manufacturer, they settled as well, because our testing showed that in 50 tests with a flame arrestor and 50 tests without a flame arrestor, the flame arrestor worked 100% of the time.

In the 50 tests with the flame arrestor not once did the migration cause the can to explode. This was one of the toughest cases we ever worked on emotionally and from a legal engineering standpoint, it was very tough from an emotional standpoint, just due to the loss the family had suffered. Luckily for that family and the other families that stood up to these manufacturers, both of the products are now safer than they were before. That gas can manufacturer went bankrupt, was purchased by another one, and now make a gas can that is much safer.

The water heater manufacturers as a trade association almost have agreed to change the way they make open pilot light water heaters so that they have a flame arrestor that protects the flame from igniting flammable vapors. At Hill Law Firm, we handle product liability cases because we believe it’s important to make the products that we use day to day safer.

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