By Wally Kennedy
MIAMI, Okla. —
Blitz USA, a manufacturer of gasoline containers that has operated for nearly five decades in Miami, will close on July 31, putting 117 employees out of work.
“This is a sad day in the 46-year history of Blitz and for our 117 employees,” said Rocky Flick, president of the company, in a prepared statement issued Tuesday.
“We appreciate the support of our employees and their families in our efforts to reorganize and develop a viable business plan. Unfortunately, we were not able to address the costs of the increased litigation associated with our fuel-containment products.”
Amanda Emerson, external affairs manager for Blitz USA, said the company is facing numerous lawsuits with regard to its portable fuel containers. The company has spent $30 million defending product-liability suits and owes $3.5 million in lawyer fees.
Blitz USA, which manufactures 70 to 75 percent of the portable gas cans sold in the United States, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., because of the litigation. Emerson said the company at that time faced 42 lawsuits.
“The lawsuits have involved adult individuals who have used gasoline to start a fire or accelerate a fire,” she said.
Emerson said the nation could face a severe shortage of the familiar red gas cans as early as this summer if steps are not taken to protect the industry that manufactures them.
“If we continue with the same legal language, a sustained supply-chain shortage could develop,” she said. “If something does not change, you would be crazy to invest in the gasoline-container industry at this time.”
She encouraged those with an interest in the situation facing Blitz and other gasoline-container companies to visit gascans4safety.com for additional information.
Gas cans are imprinted with safety guidelines approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials that clearly state gasoline should never be used to start a fire. But that does not prevent consumers from ignoring the guidelines and taking the manufacturers of gas cans to court.
Emerson said mandated standards from the Consumer Product Safety Commission could help put an end to the rising tide of litigation, but the CPSC has twice refused to mandate standards. The commission, she said, has concluded that misuse of the product — not the product itself — creates risk. But, without those standards, manufacturers face continuing liability exposure even when consumers willfully ignore safety warnings.
“Momentum is building for these mandated standards,” Emerson said. “If we are able to change the standards, someone could make Blitz USA a viable company again.”
The company, she said, had hoped the Chapter 11 bankruptcy would help it find a solution for its litigation and insurance costs.
When Blitz USA/F3 Brands filed for bankruptcy, the company had 300 employees. On April 3, F3 Brands was purchased in an auction sale by Hopkins Manufacturing Corp., of Emporia, Kan. F3 Brands will continue to manufacture and market its do-it-yourself automotive maintenance, storage and outdoor products in Miami. The plant employs about 120 people.
Blitz has begun efforts to market its business and its remaining assets for sale. The sale process, which likely will take three months, is subject to approval by the bankruptcy court.
The statement released by the company on Tuesday said it is premature to say whether the sale will be successful or if it will allow the resumption of manufacturing activities in Miami.
BLITZ USA, formerly U.S. Metal Container, supplied metal gas cans to the U.S. military during World War II. In 1966, it was the only gas can manufacturer in the United States. A year later, the gas can was painted bright red and sold to thousands of customers nationwide, according to the company’s website. In 1987, it promoted the use of plastic gas cans. In 1992, U.S. Metal Container became Blitz USA.