Under products liability laws, a manufacturer may be responsible for any injuries that result from product defects. When a product’s dangers are not obvious, the manufacturer has a duty to warn the user. If the manufacturer fails to provide adequate warning, then the user may sue under the failure to warn doctrine.

However, the manufacturer may argue that the user is considered a “sophisticated user” and therefore does not need to be warned because he or she knew or should have known of the dangers associated with using the product. This doctrine has evolved a little differently in different states and it may be called “sophisticated purchaser,” “sophisticated intermediary,” or the “learned intermediary” defense depending on the state and/or circumstances.

Who Can Be a Sophisticated User?

The sophisticated user has reason to know, through expertise, how to safely use the dangerous product. A sophisticated user has experience, training, professional skills, or legal duties such that he or she is expected to know about a product’s potential adverse or hazardous effects.

Sophisticated End User
The person who ultimately uses the product is considered the end user. An end user may be considered sophisticated if he or she had some sort of training that would allow him or her to know the dangers of the product without needed a warning.

If a well-trained technician, mechanic, etc. uses a piece of equipment that he or she knows is dangerous through his or her training, then he or she is considered a sophisticated end user. For example, a manufacturer of welding equipment may argue that a welder knew or should have known that the equipment was dangerous based on his or her training as a welder.

Sophisticated Intermediary
If the person who ultimately uses the product has no training or does not have reason to know the dangers of the product, the manufacturer may try to use the sophisticated intermediary defense. As a sophisticated intermediary, the responsibility to warn the user may transfer from the manufacturer to the sales outlet or other middle entity, if that entity is considered a sophisticated user.

For example, if a miner using a respirator uses the wrong filter number, or inserts it incorrectly, because her employer failed to instruct her, the manufacturer may use the defense that the employer is a sophisticated intermediary. The manufacturer will argue that the employer was the one who failed to warn the employee, and the employer should be liable instead of the manufacturer.

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney?

Product liability cases can be very tricky and hiring an experienced products liability lawyer will maximize the possibility of recovery for your loss. The legal theories and limitations of product liability are vast, complicated, and vary by state. An attorney will be able to help you create a strategy based on the facts of your case.