Product liability is a legal theory which holds sellers, retailers, or manufacturers liable for allowing defective products to reach consumers. Any party which is involved in the chain of distribution may be found liable under product liability laws.
Although the laws which govern product liability vary by state, there is a set of commercial statutes after which most states have modeled their product liability laws. This statute is the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).
The UCC contains warranty rules which govern and affect product liability issues. Product liability laws dictate that a product is to be reasonably safe for its intended purpose.
In some cases, this focuses on the condition of the product itself. It is important to note, however, that there are certain useful products which are inherently dangerous and those dangers cannot be eliminated without somehow rendering the product much less effective.
An example of this type of product would include gasoline. Gasoline is highly flammable and it creates an inherent risk when it is being used. If, however, gasoline was not combustible, it would not be able to power an engine and, therefore, serve its purpose.
What is Failure to Warn?
The failure to warn is a principle of product liability laws. When a product fails to provide an adequate warning of the dangers which are associated with the use of the product, it is considered a failure to warn.
Warning labels which are found on the products themselves, as well as the owner’s manual which is included with the product must be clearly and concisely written. In addition, warning labels must explain all of the possible dangers and risks which may be associated with the use of the product.
Both manufacturers as well as suppliers are legally obligated to place clear and complete warnings on their products, which warn of any dangers which may not be immediately apparent to the average consumer. However, it is important to be aware that a supplier or a manufacturer does not have a duty to warn of any dangers which a reasonable user would anticipate. This would include situations such as putting a warning label on a knife which states the knife is sharp.
Who Could be Held Liable for a Failure to Warn Claim?
Liability for a failure to warn of a product defect such as a failure to warn may be imposed upon any of the parties which are involved in the chain of distribution of the product. This applies even if the party which is found responsible was not the party which actually created or caused the defect.
Defendants can be found strictly liable if they were responsible for placing a defective product into the marketplace when that product was defective upon leaving the hands of the defendant.
There are several examples of common parties which may be held liable for failure to warn claims, including:
- The manufacturer of the product;
- The manufacturer of component parts;
- The distributor of the product;
- A retailer who sells the product;
- A wholesaler of the product; or
- A party which was responsible for the installation or assembly of the product.
Any of the previously discussed parties may be held strictly liable for the failure to provide an adequate warning for any products which they sell to consumers if the consumer suffers an injury which results from the lack of a warning on the product. In order to be held liable, the responsible party must have actually used or sold the product in their regular course of business.
In other words, the alleged responsible party cannot be held responsible if they are a casual seller of the product, such as individuals who are selling products at their home garage sale. Failure to warn is a strict liability tort.
Strict liability is a legal theory which holds parties responsible for their products or actions, without requiring the plaintiff to prove negligence of fault. Even if a defendant took all necessary precautions and followed all safety requirements, the defendant may still be held liable for the injuries the plaintiff sustained.
Therefore, if a defendant was able to foresee that an individual could have been harmed by the product due to the nature of the product, they will be held responsible for those foreseeable damages.
What is Involved in a Failure to Warn Lawsuit?
Failure to warn claims follow the same basic principles of any type of personal injury lawsuit. A plaintiff in a failure to warn lawsuit will need to show the following elements:
- That the manufacturer knew of the danger posed by the product;
- That the manufacturer had a duty to warn consumers of the danger related to the product;
- The manufacturer was negligent in relation to their duty to warn; and
- The manufacturer’s failure to warn resulted in the plaintiff’s injury.
A defendant may be able to present certain arguments in order to defeat the plaintiff’s claim. These arguments may include:
- The defendant was not aware of the danger of the product;
- The defendant had no duty to warn of the danger;
- The defendant was not negligent regarding their duty to warn;
- The plaintiff’s injury was not a result of an inadequate warning; or
- The warning was actually visible.
A defendant may claim that they were not aware of the product’s danger, especially if an injured party used a product in such a way that would not be obvious to a reasonable person. A manufacturer can reasonably be expected to be aware of and warn regarding:
- Design flaws in the product;
- Breakdowns; and
- Common examples of misuse of the product.
In order for a defendant to be liable, the individual who is using the product must show that they would have followed the warning label, had one existed. As previously noted, the duty to warn does not apply to dangers which are obvious to the ordinary user. There may be a duty to warn, however, against dangers of certain uses of the product when used for something other than its intended purpose, if it is a foreseeable use of the product.
The warning on a product is required to be:
- Informative; and
- Useful to the consumer.
Examples of language which may be considered adequate warning language may include:
- A word indicating potential risks, including caution, danger, or warning;
- Identification of the nature of the risk, including possible fire or poison; or
- An explanation of how the danger can be avoided.
A manufacturer cannot be held responsible for a plaintiff’s injury if that injury was actually caused by:
- A prior medical problem;
- A work related injury; or
- Another type of injury not caused by the product.
A warning label on a product must be placed where it can be read by users of a product. If there was a warning on the product and the plaintiff failed to see it, a defendant may not be held liable.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Failure to Warn Lawsuit?
It is essential to have the assistance of a product and services attorney for any issues related to failure to warn. Failure to warn lawsuits can be complex and require a substantial amount of evidence in court.
If you have been injured due to failure to warn, your attorney can review your case, determine if you have a claim, and assist you with all aspects of filing a lawsuit. If you have been sued because of a failure to warn, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible.