A Warning About Warnings: Read the Fine Print
The printed labels on products these days can be downright humorous. Who hasn’t had a good chuckle (usually at the expense of lawyers in general) reading these things? Whether it’s a peanut brittle label which states “Warning: May Contain Peanuts” or lighter fluid with a warning that states “Caution: Combustible,” one has to wonder why manufacturers even bother.
Previous blogs have mentioned the fact that products liability law can be somewhat ambiguous. Yet every year, dangerous products maim and kill. While some everyday products are downright safe, even in this modern age, defective and dangerous products can and do cause serious personal injuries.
In reality, product manufacturers are not required to eliminate all risks in their products. If you think about it, some products have apparent dangers that require common sense on the part of the user. Let’s face it: knives are made to cut, sledgehammers are made to smash and cleaners are made to burn off unwanted gunk. Not surprisingly, those who are injured by dangers which are obvious are generally not allowed to bring a products liability lawsuit.
But what about hidden or so-called “latent” risks? Here we have one of the law’s famous gray areas. If a reasonable consumer may not have figured out the risk, then the manufacturer may be liable for failing to warn. Note that even in cases where a warning is printed on the carton or in an operator’s manual, the manufacturer may be liable for failing to post a reasonable warning.
The law pertaining to warnings has evolved over the years, and there are actually many experts (typically product engineers) whose professional careers revolve around the placement and wording of warnings.
The occurrence of a serious injury due to a product defect probably calls for immediate review by legal counsel. In our office, we will sometimes retain experts to give opinions about reasonableness of a warning’s wording and placement. Our office has handled cases involving a number of dangerous products such as construction equipment, radial arm saws, waterbeds and the like. Even food and medicines may be deemed “dangerous products” if improperly labeled.
If you are concerned that you may have been the victim of a defective product (or one rendered defective by the absence of an appropriate warning), please contact us to see if legal action is appropriate.