A good product warning label is like wearing a safety belt in a car. It’s tedious to put on, you won’t notice it while it is on, but you’ll be grateful you have it on if anything bad happens. The analogy might be a little strange because the warning label is for the consumer, not the producer. However, producers need these warning labels if they wish to avoid warning defect liability. Here are three ways to write a protective warning:
1) Be Detailed and Specific
Suppose you’re in the coffee brewing industry, like McDonalds or In-N-Out. What kind of warning can you put on a cup of hot coffee? Most cups would say something like "Caution: Handle with Care. I’m Hot." That’s pretty good, but given the lawsuits against the fast food industry, something more specific might be called for. Something like: "Don’t Expose To Bare Skin." A good warning should not only state the risk, but also the behavior which could cause the injury. Be graphic about the behavior and the risks that consumers should avoid.
2) The Warnings Should Be Prominent and Understandable
A warning is not a warning if nobody sees or understands it. If the purpose of the warning is to avoid a liability suit, printing your warning on the last page at the bottom of your instruction manual in tiny font is counterproductive. The warning should be printed on the instruction manual, the packaging, and anywhere else the consumer might see it. The warning should also be in readable font.
The warnings should also be in multiple languages. The warnings don’t have to be in every language conceivable, but it should be in the most common languages that your market speaks. For instance, in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might want your warnings in Spanish, Tagalog, and Chinese, as well as English. Pictures might also be helpful, especially if you’re not familiar with the languages spoken in your market.
3) It Is Okay to Make Certain Assumptions
A quick Google search will reveal that manufacturers today aren’t taking any risks when they write warnings. Some highlights include: "Do Not Put Any Person in This Washer" or "Do Not Use Power Tool as a Dental Drill." These warnings aren’t bad, especially if your instruction manual or warning label has infinite space. If you don’t have infinite space or time though, writing these kinds of extended warnings can be more expensive than helpful.
Courts make certain assumptions when evaluating whether a warning was necessary or adequate. The most useful assumption is that the consumer will use the product for its intended purpose. If it is obvious that a steak knife was made for cutting rather than juggling, then the creator of the steak knife can probably skip the warning about juggling.
Warnings will protect against certain types of lawsuits. A well-written warning will deflect warning defect suits and certain types of product liability suits. Measuring the success of a warning in preventing lawsuits can be a tricky task, since one would be measuring events which shouldn’t be happening. Moreover, plaintiffs can still bring suit even if the product is completely covered in warnings. The value of the warning will come when a judge strikes a warning defect claim from a product liability suit.
Warning label defects can create serious risks to consumers and users of a product. You may wish to hire a qualified products and services attorney if you need assistance with a warning defect products liability claim. Your lawyer will be able to guide you through the legal process to ensure that your rights are being represented.