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Emily Welker, Published May 10 2013

Wrongful death lawsuit filed in Moorhead explosion, defendants include family of boy who poured gas on grill

MOORHEAD – The father of a Moorhead man who died after rushing to help a 12-year-old boy burned in a backyard grill explosion here in 2010 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the badly burned boy and his parents.

The lawsuit filed in Clay County District Court last week also names as defendants the manufacturer of a gas can the 12-year-old used to pour on a lit charcoal grill, accidentally igniting the explosion, and Wal-Mart, the store where the can was sold.

The wrongful death lawsuit comes as court records show a settlement could be coming in a federal lawsuit filed in 2011 by the parents of the boy – the now 15-year-old Devan Vanbrunt – against Wal-Mart and the gas can maker, Blitz U.S.A. Inc.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Tommy Tvedt, father of 21-year-old Dane Tvedt, a neighbor who collapsed and died as he was rushing toward the aftermath of the fire.

Vanbrunt survived burns over 40 percent of his body.

Dane Tvedt suffered cardiac arrest at the scene and died later at MeritCare, now Sanford Health. His father would not discuss details of the case filed against Vanbrunt’s parents, Robyn and Bill Smith. No complaint has been filed with the case yet.

At the time of the incident three years ago, Bill Smith – who said he has raised Vanbrunt since he was an infant but isn’t his legal guardian – praised Tvedt for running toward the burning boy to help.

“It’s like he stood between the devil and my son,” Bill Smith said of Tvedt. “This is a thing of the spirit. Dane gave his life to save my son’s.”

Tommy Tvedt on Friday told The Forum he did not know Robyn Smith was close to finalizing a settlement in her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota. That lawsuit alleged Blitz and Wal-Mart were liable for the explosion because the gas can should have had a safety device called a flame arrestor to prevent the explosion.

The lawsuit describes a flame arrestor as metal screen or wire mesh device inside the opening of a gas can, designed to let liquid flow out but prevent flames from flashing back into the container.

Oklahoma-based Blitz U.S.A. was removed from the case after declaring bankruptcy. Smith sued Wal-Mart on the grounds that it should have known gas cans that don’t have flame arrestors are dangerous because of prior product liability lawsuits.

Judge Richard Kyle issued an order March 3 granting a joint motion by Smith and Wal-Mart to suspend all activity in the case pending finalization of a settlement. No dollar value is named in Smith’s lawsuit, but the original complaint said the family sought compensation for medical care, lost wages and emotional distress.

Neither Smith nor her attorney returned phone calls Friday.

The response by Smith to the wrongful death suit filed in Clay County denied the allegations in Tvedt’s complaint and said “damages were caused by reason of the wrongful acts or omissions of Defendants Blitz U.S.A. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., including but not limited to negligence, defective design of the Subject Gas Can, failure to warn of dangers of use of the Subject Gas Can, and sale of the Subject Gas Can in a defective state.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541