A warning defect, or a warning label defect, is a specific type of legal theory that is most commonly used as the basis of defective products liability lawsuits. Simply put, a warning defect can occur when the manufacturer of a product fails to include sufficient warnings associated with the product. This is generally in the form of a warning label, or descriptions placed on the outside packaging of a product.
A consumer can become seriously injured from a product that lacks sufficient warning. This is especially true for products that are inherently dangerous to use on their own, such as:
- Products that have sharp edges, such as a knife;
- Firearms or other weapons;
- Products that have heated surfaces; and/or
- Toxic chemicals.
It is important to note that warning defects are only one of three different types of product defects. The other two are design defects, meaning that a product was designed poorly or dangerously, and manufacturing defects, in which a product may have been incorrectly or dangerously manufactured.
There are many ways in which a warning defect can occur. Some common examples include, but may not be limited to:
- The manufacturer completely failed to affix any type of warning label at all;
- The instructions on the warning label were unclear, or contained detrimental mistakes;
- The warning label is attached or posted on the product in such a way that makes it impractical or impossible to read, such as too small font, not being easily noticeable, or the color of the font is very light; and/or
- The attached warning label is for an entirely different product and does not apply to the product in question.
Any of these warning defects can lead to a lawsuit if a consumer is injured directly because of the warning defect. Generally speaking, the victim must prove that both the product and its warning defect were the cause of their injuries. Additionally, they must prove that they did not contribute to the resulting injuries because of their own negligence or carelessness. Otherwise, they could lose the lawsuit as well as the possibility to recover damages.
What Is A Warning Label Lawsuit?
As previously mentioned, a warning label lawsuit is brought by the consumer of a product. Consumer products generally include:
- Electronic devices; and
- Mechanical devices.
Federal law states that product suppliers and manufacturers are required to provide adequate warning of any dangers that the product may pose. Warnings generally take the form of a label that describes the dangers in order to ensure that consumers are aware of the dangers associated with the use of the product.
Additionally, when a product poses a danger that is not considered to be apparent or obvious to the general consumer, federal law has determined that the manufacturer of the product must place a warning label on the product.
While the label must warn of the danger, federal law does not require warning labels for every hypothetical danger associated with every product. An example of this would be how when the danger posed by a product is obvious, such as a knife being sharp, the law does not impose a duty to warn. A duty to provide warning is generally only required for dangers that an ordinary consumer could not anticipate. A failure to warn when required is considered to be a design defect, or flaw in how a product was designed.
Generally speaking, a manufacturer has duty to warn when:
- The product is inherently dangerous;
- The manufacturer knows or should know of the danger;
- The danger exists when the product is being used in an expected manner; and
- The danger is not reasonably obvious to the general consumer.
The warning must adequately instruct a consumer regarding dangers posed by general product uses. Additionally, the manufacturer must provide adequate instructions regarding safe product use.
Warning Label Accident Statistics
Warning labels are generally intended to warn against foreseeable misuses of the product. However, they may be necessary when the planned use of the product can cause harm, such as the warning labels that are placed on cigarette packaging.
While warning labels are generally presumed to be effective, they do not always provide an adequate warning. As previously mentioned, warning labels may not be fully visible, or they may not adequately convey the risk of the harm. Warning labels may not even warn of a particular harm at all. When a warning label is considered to be inadequate, accidents and harm that could have otherwise been avoided are likely to be associated with the product.
Some general statistics regarding how warning labels are not alone adequate to safeguard consumers include:
- Only 50% of adults actually remembered the warning label placed on a package of cigarettes, as the warning label currently appears. However, 83% of adults remembered the warning label on a package of cigarettes that was created in a newer style. It is worth nothing that cigarette companies have openly refused to use this newer style;
- In a study conducted in 2012, only 50% of participants had their attention drawn to all 5 warning labels that were placed on the medication bottles that they were shown. 22% of the study’s participants did not have their attention captured by any of the warning labels;
- One of the most damaging statistics would be how emergency contraceptives in the United States do not provide any sort of warning label discussing the absolute ineffectiveness of the medication on women that weigh 176 pounds or more. This remains true, even though the average American woman over 20 years of age is 166.2 pounds. Additionally, 5.8 million American women used an emergency contraceptive between 2006 and 2010;
- According to the International Center for Alcohol Policies, current warning labels placed on alcohol containers warning against drinking and driving are only memorable to 46% of drinkers; and
- In 2010, one third of tanning beds in New York City were found to have lacked warning labels that were adequate enough to satisfy federal law regarding tanning bed warning labels.
Warnings in general are considered to be a sort of last resort in order to promote safety, if the hazard is not obvious. In order to avoid warning label accidents, the warning should:
- Alert the consumer of the danger associated with the use of the product;
- Describe the nature of the danger(s); and
- Provide an explanation regarding what will happen if the user fails to comply with the provided warning.
What Are Some Of The Legal Remedies For A Warning Label Defect Claim?
Cases involving warning label defects are generally associated with a claim for a physical injury resulting from the warning defect. A victim who can prove that their injuries were caused by the warning defect will generally receive a monetary damages award, which can allow a person to recover losses directly related to the injury. Examples include medical expenses and lost earnings potential.
The product may be subject to a recall. This means that it must be removed from stores and the public must be notified of its recall. The product can no longer legally be sold in commerce, and any affected consumers may receive a refund from the company. Additionally, a manufacturer may receive a fine for violating products liability laws.
Do I Need An Attorney For Issues Related To Warning Label Accidents?
If you have been injured because of a warning label accident, you should consult with an experienced and local personal injury lawyer.
An attorney can provide you with legal options allowable under your state’s specific consumer and personal injury laws, and will also be able to represent you in court as needed. Additionally, a personal injury attorney will be aware of any class action lawsuits that you may be able to join.