Firm to appeal Utah jury award over fatal gas fire

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma company said Monday it will appeal a $4.3 million jury award to a Utah man whose 2-year-old daughter died in a fire ignited when he poured gasoline from a plastic container into a wood stove in his mobile home.

Blitz USA, which made the plastic fuel container, told The Associated Press that evidence at the federal trial in Salt Lake City showed David Calder recklessly poured or splashed gasoline onto live embers in the wood stove.

The “misuse of gasoline” caused the trailer fire, not any problem with the gas container, said James R. King, general counsel for Miami, Okla.-based Blitz. The company plans to ask a judge to overturn the verdict or order a new trial before filing for an appeal.

Calder’s attorney, Don Winder, said the jury made the right decision on Wednesday and that a 5-cent piece of wire mesh inside the gas spout would have blocked flames and kept the container from exploding.

The company insists its gas container didn’t explode in the December 2005 fire and that Calder had enough time to get his daughter out of the trailer.

In an interview, Calder said his clothes immediately caught fire and he rolled in the dirt before trying to rescue his daughter. He said flames from the wood stove followed vapors back inside the gas container.

“They don’t want to admit their gas cans blow up,” Calder, a 38-year-old biomedical technician at the University of Utah’s Moran Eye Center, said Monday.

“It’s basically a milk jug with a nozzle on it — really not something that should be in the marketplace. Yeah, I made a bad decision putting gas on a fire. But I think it’s up to manufacturers to make things safer, and the jury agreed.”

The jury found Blitz 70 percent at fault for the fire. Calder was held to be 30 percent responsible, reducing by that much his take from a verdict that topped $6.1 million for medical expenses, lost earnings and other damages.

Calder was burned on 30 percent of his body and spent two months in the University of Utah hospital’s burn unit. A son also suffered some burn injuries. His daughter, Hailey Parish, was engulfed by flames and died. Another son outside the trailer wasn’t hurt.

The blaze at the remote Uintah County trailer occurred when Calder was struggling to light a stove fire with wet wood. His lawyer said Calder was unaware the stove contained any burning embers when Calder recalled pouring a “teeny bit” of gasoline on the wood, causing the gas can to explode.

“He was holding a bomb,” Winder told the AP on Monday. He acknowledged Calder’s gas container had a nipple ventilation valve that was broken off and could have been venting gas.

The company says that in a deposition, one of Calder’s sons said he remained in the trailer for another three minutes, indicating there was no explosion or imminent danger.

Winder said Blitz’s own market research showed 20 percent of its customers use the cans to pour gasoline as a fire accelerant, yet it still hasn’t designed a safe container.

The company says nothing is wrong with its containers and that vapors from the gasoline Calder spilled ignited a fire that started on the floor and gradually spread throughout the trailer.


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