Product liability is what holds product manufacturers, retailers, or sellers liable for allowing any defective products to reach the consumer. All parties involved in the chain of distribution may be found guilty of product liability. Although state laws regarding product liability vary, there is a set of commercial statutes that most states have modeled their own laws after. This is known as the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”), and it contains warranty rules which affect product liability. 

All products liability law dictates that products are to be reasonably safe for their intended purpose, sometimes focusing on the condition of the product itself. However, some useful products inherently contain dangers that could not be eliminated without somehow rendering the product less effective. An example of this would be gasoline, which is highly flammable and creates some inherent risk when using it. However, if gasoline were not combustible, it would no longer be able to power an engine and serve its purpose.

Failure to warn is one principle of product liability. When products fail to provide an adequate warning of the dangers associated with its use, this is known as failure to warn. The warning labels found on the product itself, and the owner’s manual included with the product, must be clear and concise. Additionally, they must explain all the possible dangers and risks that may be associated with the use of the product. 

Manufacturers and suppliers are legally required to place clear and complete warnings on their products, of any dangers that may not be immediately apparent to the average consumer. It is important to note that manufacturers and suppliers do not have any such duty to warn of dangers that a reasonable user would anticipate. An example of this would be placing a warning label on a knife stating that the knife is sharp.

Who Could Be Held Liable for a Failure to Warn Claim?

Technically, liability for a product defect such as a failure to warn could fall on any party involved in the product’s chain of distribution. This is true even if the party found responsible was not the party that actually created the defect. A defendant may be found strictly liable if they were the party responsible for placing the defective product in the marketplace, and the product was defective upon leaving the hands of the defendant.

Some examples of the most common parties to be held liable for a failure to warn claim include:

  • The product’s manufacturer;
  • A manufacturer of component parts;
  • The product’s distributor;
  • A retailer who sells the product;
  • A product’s wholesaler; or
  • A party responsible for the installation or assembly of the product.

Any of these parties may be held strictly liable for a failure to provide adequate warnings for any product that they sell to a consumer, if the consumer suffers an injury as a result of the lack of warnings on the product. The responsible party must have actually sold or used the product in the regular course of business. This means that the alleged responsible party could not be held responsible if they were a casual seller of the product, such as a person selling the product at their home garage sale.

Failure to warn is a strict liability lawsuit. Strict liability is a legal theory that holds a party responsible for their actions or products, without the plaintiff needing to prove negligence or fault. Even if they (the defendant) took all necessary precautions and followed safety requirements, they may still be held strictly liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Thus, if the defendant is able to foresee that a person could be harmed by the product because of the nature of the product, they will be held responsible for the foreseeable damages.

What Is Involved in a Failure to Warn Lawsuit?

A failure to warn lawsuit will follow the basic principles of any personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff will need to show the court the following:

  1. That the manufacturers knew of the danger posed by the product;
  2. That the manufacturer had a duty to warn consumers of that danger;
  3. The manufacturer was negligent in their duty to warn; and
  4. The manufacturer’s failure to warn resulted in the consumer’s injury.

In order to defeat the suit, the defendant would only need to prove one of the following points:

  • The Defendant Was Not Aware of The Product’s Danger: The defendant may claim ignorance, especially if the injured party used the product in such a way that would not be obvious to any other reasonable person. Manufacturers can be reasonably expected to be aware of any design flaws, breakdowns, and/or common examples of misuse, then warn about those dangers;
  • The Defendant Had No Duty To Warn of The Danger: In order to create liability, the person using the product must show that they would have followed the warning had one existed. As previously mentioned, the duty to warn does not apply to dangers that are obvious to the ordinary customer. However, there may also be a duty to warn against the dangers of the product when it is utilized for something other than its intended purpose, if such a use is foreseeable;
  • The Defendant Was Not Negligent In Regards To Their Duty To Warn: The product’s warning must be visible, informative, and useful to the customer. Some examples of adequate warning language could include:

    • A word indicating potential risk, such as “danger,” “warning,” or “caution”
    • Identifying the nature of the risk, such as possible fire or poison; or
    • An explanation of how to avoid the danger.
  • The Plaintiff’s Injury Was Not Actually A Result of Inadequate Warning: Manufacturers cannot be held responsible for the plaintiff’s injury if the injury was actually caused by a prior medical problem from a past accident, or work related injury; and
  • The Warning Was Actually Visible: The warning label must be placed where it could be read by the users of the product. If the warning was in fact visible, and the plaintiff did not see it, the defendant may not be held liable.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Failure to Warn Lawsuit?

If you have been injured due to a failure to warn, or if you are being sued because of a failure to warn, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you compile evidence proving your case, as well as represent you in court as needed.