How to Warn for Foreseeable Hazards

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 What Is Failure To Warn? How Is It Associated With Product Liability?

Product liability is the legal theory that holds product manufacturers, retailers, or sellers liable for allowing any defective products to reach the consumer. All parties involved in the chain of distribution could be found guilty of product liability. While state laws associated with product liability differ from state to state, 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”), which contains warranty rules that affect product liability.

All laws associated with products liability state that products are to be reasonably safe for their intended purpose. Such laws sometimes also focus on the condition of the product itself. However, there are some useful products that inherently contain dangers that could not be eliminated without somehow rendering the product less effective.

An example of this would be gasoline. Gasoline 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 thus serve its intended purpose.

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

Product manufacturers and suppliers are legally required to place clear and complete warnings on their products. These warnings are intended to warn 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 any reasonable user would anticipate.

An example of this would be placing a warning label on a knife, stating that the knife is sharp. It is assumed that any reasonable user would anticipate that the knife is sharp, which is why they are using the knife to begin with.

What Is A Warning Label Lawsuit?

A warning label lawsuit is a lawsuit that is brought by a consumer of a product. Consumer products include:

  • Food;
  • Drink;
  • Drugs;
  • Electronic devices; and
  • Mechanical devices.

According to federal law, product suppliers and manufacturers are required to provide adequate warning of the dangers that the product may pose to the consumer. As previously mentioned, warnings generally come in the form of a label placed on the product that describes the potential dangers.

Warning labels are an attempt to ensure that consumers are aware of the dangers that a product may pose. When a consumer is injured by a product that was not properly labeled, they may be able to sue the product manufacturer or supplier for their resulting injuries.

Federal law also states that if a product poses a danger that is not apparent or obvious to a consumer, the manufacturer of the product must place a warning label on the product which warns of the danger. This is an important distinction worth repeating as the law does not require warning labels for every hypothetical danger that the product poses.

The law requires a duty to provide warning against dangers that an ordinary user could not anticipate. Generally speaking, the manufacturer’s duty to warn arises when:

  • The product is dangerous;
  • The manufacturer knows or should know of the danger;
  • The danger exists when the product is used in an expected manner; and/or
  • The danger would not be obvious to the general consumer.

The manufacturer must provide a warning that adequately instructs a consumer in terms of the dangers posed by common product uses. Additionally, the manufacturer must provide adequate instructions regarding safe product use.

How Can I Avoid Liability Through Warning For Foreseeable Hazards?

Failure to warn consumers about a dangerous or hazardous product or situation can lead to liability if an injury results, as previously mentioned. When a warning is provided, it must adequately cover the potential risks. An adequate product warning can protect the business from warning defect liability, as well as protect innocent consumers.

The following are some of the criteria to consider when creating a product warning:

  1. The Warning Must Be Clearly Visible: Generally speaking, a warning which cannot be seen or read is not considered to be a warning at all. An example of this would be how “no trespassing” signs should not have trees in front of them, obstructing the view of the sign. Another example would be how wet floor signage will not prevent slip and fall suits if they are placed behind bathroom doors, or if they are knocked over and not replaced. When there are certain dangers to certain people, business owners and other potentially liable parties should consider handing written warnings to the person(s) directly. An example of this would be how if a dentist needs to warn a patient regarding the potential to overdose on painkillers, the dentist should give the patient a written notice. Having a paper trail can help reduce the likelihood of being held liable later on;
  2. Warnings Should Be As Specific As Possible: To reiterate, defendants are required to warn of foreseeable hazards which could cause harm to others. Because of this, the warning should be specific enough to indicate the nature and extent of the danger that is being warned of. An example of this would be how construction sites should not simply post danger signs; these signs should also warn that there may be falling objects to be aware of. Another example would be how vending machines should clearly state that a person may be crushed to death if they try to shake the machine. Because the best way to discourage improper use is to be as specific as possible, parties providing a warning should be considerably graphic but realistic about the risks associated with ignoring the warning; and
  3. Understand The Warning’s Audience: This point is associated with the sophisticated user doctrine. An example of this would be how a carpenter who uses a nail gun is a different user than a teenager using the same tool. The carpenter’s knowledge would inform them regarding how to operate the nail gun’s safety catch, and as such, does not usually need to be told what happens if the catch is turned off inappropriately. However, the carpenter would have a duty to warn the teenager or other uninformed person about the nail gun’s danger if the carpenter allows others to use the tool. Although the sophisticated duty doctrine would relieve certain businesses of liability, it transfers the same responsibility to other parties.

Do I Need An Attorney For Issues Related To Warning For Foreseeable Hazards?

If you are involved in an issue associated with warning for foreseeable hazards, whether as the injured party or the responsible party, you will need to consult with an experienced and local personal injury lawyer.

An attorney can inform you of your state’s specific laws regarding liability, and whether your state adheres to the sophisticated user doctrine. Additionally, your personal injury attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

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