Unexpected explosions in cans and containers have been a recurring event spawning product liability litigation for many years. The explosions can and have occurred in a variety of circumstances, both in West Virginia and throughout the country. One prominent example in recent years has been a number of sudden, life-threatening explosions in plastic portable gas cans. Any time that a stray spark or flame comes near a gas can that has little gas left in it there can be a sudden combustion of fire that turns into a full-blown explosion, usually causing serious injury. The risk of this danger makes the gas can a defective product.

It happens rarely, but when the right combination of chemical reactions occurs, the can itself ignites an explosion. Almost a dozen people have died since 1998 from such mishaps, and over 1000 have been reportedly received treatment in hospitals, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A consumer who is harmed from a gas can explosion can report the incident to state and federal authorities, and if serious injury occurs, may also benefit from following up with a product liability attorney.

The gas can industry has countered that the victims in these incidents have been using the cans improperly, have been burning refuse unsafely and otherwise not using the product in its intended manner. They point out that the cans have warnings about explosions near fumes. However, some victims explain that the defective product may be taken yards away from any fumes or sparks and an explosion may still occur. In one instance a spark from static electricity on the user’s jeans fueled the explosion.

Furthermore, because of strict liability the plaintiff’s contributory negligence is generally not counted, unless the product was being used in ways never intended by the manufacturer. Plaintiffs in these suits rely heavily on the fact that the technology for many years has allowed for the installation of flame arresters but the plastic cans do not have them. It’s sometimes found in defective product liability cases in West Virginia and elsewhere that even though the technology for a safer product is available the manufacturer will not add it due to its extra cost.

Source: NBC News Investigations, Warning: Scientists say gas cans carry risk of explosion, Lisa Myers and Richard Gardella, Dec. 4, 2013