Defense Verdict in Gas Can Explosion Case
Estate of James Wurster v. The Plastics Group, Inc. d/b/a Wedco Moulded Products
Product Liability and Wrongful Death
On February 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a trial victory obtained by Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial Partners David Matthews and M. Alan Holcomb in a product liability-wrongful death case in which the Estate of a decedent claimed that the defective design of a gasoline container caused a fatal explosion when a successful farmer in Southern Iowa poured gasoline out of the container while burning debris on his farm.
In its opinion, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the trial court did not err in failing to submit both negligence and strict product liability instructions under Iowa law or by granting judgment as a matter of law for the defendant on the Estate’s post-sale failure-to-warn claim.
The case was tried for eight days in April 2017 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa before the Honorable Charles R. Wolle. The Estate claimed that the manufacturer of the at-issue gasoline container, The Plastics Group, Inc., defectively designed the container by failing to place a flame arrestor in all openings of the container and by failing to warn product users of the potential of “flashback” explosions. The Estate claimed that as a result of the alleged defects, a “flashback” explosion occurred, causing the decedent to suffer third degree burns over 80 percent of his body, which caused his death hours after the explosion.
The Plastics Group, Inc. denied liability for the explosion, arguing that the container met all governmental, industry, and scientific standards at the time it was designed and manufactured. During closing arguments, the Estate requested $17,000,000 in total damages. After more than a day and a half of deliberations, the jury rendered a “take-nothing” verdict in favor of The Plastics Group, Inc. under Iowa’s comparative fault scheme.