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Dangerous Products Warning Defects

When manufacturers market and sell an unsafe product, they owe it to consumers to warn them of any risks. For example, if an appliance gets hot after use, there should be a warning not to touch it.

A product can be dangerous even if there is no design defect. The same is true when it comes to manufacturing defects.

From a legal perspective, a product can be defective if it doesn't have adequate warnings. If the product poses foreseeable risks of harm, a manufacturer, retailer, wholesaler, or distributor must reduce those risks. They can do this by providing reasonable instructions or warnings.

If they fail to warn, their product may be deemed unsafe. If the manufacturer releases a product to the public without any instruction, they can be found liable for resulting injuries.

The Manufacturer's Duties

Some products are inherently dangerous. Even if a consumer uses them properly, there is still a risk of harm. Manufacturers must protect consumers to the best of their ability. In failure to warn cases, the injured party must prove the warning was deficient.

A manufacturer has two duties when creating warning labels and instructions:

  • The manufacturer must warn users of hidden dangers that may be present in a product.
  • The manufacturer must instruct users on how to use a product to avoid any risks and use the product safely.

Warnings must be clear and specific. It must also be conspicuous and placed where the user can easily find it. Most people are familiar with these warning stickers. They are typically bright orange, red, or yellow. They usually have warnings and brief instructions written in black block letters.

You can usually find a manufacturer's warning in the following places:

  • On the product's packaging
  • On the product itself
  • In the instruction booklet

Sometimes, the manufacturer puts it in all three places. Additionally, the warning must be understandable. Many manufacturers now provide warnings in foreign languages and use symbols. This way, children and non-English speaking users can understand them.

When Is a Warning Required?

Most companies voluntarily place warnings on their products. However, the seller is only required to issue warnings in some cases.

According to the Restatement (Third) of Torts, companies must provide warnings when:

  • The product presents a danger
  • The manufacturer knows about the danger
  • The danger is present when the consumer reasonably uses the product in its intended manner
  • The risk is not apparent to the reasonable user

What Is Considered Reasonable Use?

What is deemed "reasonable use" and what dangers are "obvious to the reasonable consumer" vary with consumer products. It also depends on the mindset of the consumer.

In 1994, Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman, purchased a coffee at a McDonald's drive-thru. After taking the cup from the server, the woman spilled the coffee on her lap, sustaining third-degree burns.

Ms. Liebeck hired a personal injury lawyer and sued McDonald's after they refused to fully pay for her medical bills, alleging they failed to warn her that the coffee was hot. The jury in her case awarded her $2.86 million in punitive and compensatory damages. A judge would later reduce her verdict to $640,000.

Most people were surprised she won because it is common sense that coffee is hot. However, this is a prime example of how far the courts will go to protect consumers. The judge found that McDonald's should have warned the plaintiff that the coffee was hot enough to cause severe burns if spilled.

The question here was whether Liebeck's use of the product was reasonable. Furthermore, was the risk of burning oneself obvious? It is reasonably foreseeable that customers could spill coffee on themselves, especially when using the drive-thru, although Liebeck was in the passenger's seat. The risk of burning yourself with fresh, hot coffee is obvious, but the McDonald's product was at 180 degrees, 30 degrees above a home brew's temperature.

A jury today may disagree with the results in Liebeck v. McDonald's. To be safe, however, the fast-food chain now includes a disclaimer when they sell hot beverages and has lowered the temperature they serve them at.

How To Identify a Product Warning Problem

It can be challenging to determine when a product warning is inadequate. Thankfully, the 6th Circut Court provided a helpful five-part test in Bradley v. Ameristep Inc. (2015). According to the court in Bradley, the following questions can help ascertain if a product warning is defective:

  • Does the notice indicate the scope of the danger?
  • Does it reasonably communicate the scope and extent of the harm that can result from misuse?
  • Do the physical aspects of the warning alert the consumer about the potential dangers?
  • Does it communicate the consequences of misuse?
  • Are the means used to convey the message adequate?

If you hurt yourself with a dangerous product and wonder if the warning was adequate, this questionnaire should help. It's something attorneys in defective product cases assess as well.

Examples of Defective Products With Inadequate Warnings

Some products are more likely to suffer from an inadequate warning. These are the products that become the subject of product liability claims. If enough people get hurt, attorneys may file a class action lawsuit.

Some of the products that are more likely to have inadequate warnings include the following:

  • Products that pose a food allergy
  • Dangerous drugs
  • Defective medical devices
  • Small toys that pose choking hazards
  • Electrical appliances
  • Lawnmowers and other lawncare tools
  • Power tools

Of course, this list isn't exhaustive. It doesn't include those products that suffer from a design flaw. If you or a loved one get hurt or die due to an inadequate warning, you may have a legal claim for damages. If someone dies after using a defective product without an adequate warning, their family may file a wrongful death action.

Your Product Liability Lawyer Will Demand Damages

If you file a product liability claim for an inadequate warning, your attorney will demand damages. In many of these cases, the injured party can ask the judge to award them the following types of damages:

  • Medical expenses
  • Future medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Lost future income
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages

Every case is unique. Your product liability attorney won't know what you deserve until they review your case.

The Consumer's Responsibilities

Even if a product is dangerous, consumers are still responsible for protecting themselves. First, the consumer must use the product as instructed. Most products come with instructions telling the buyer how to use them. Other products are so simplistic that all it takes is common sense to stay safe.

When the court determines if a plaintiff was partially responsible for their injuries, they'll use a reasonable person standard. They'll ask if the average consumer would have acted similarly in the same circumstances.

This doesn't mean you can't demand damages if you didn't use the product correctly. However, your personal injury lawyer must demonstrate that you acted reasonably. They must also show that the danger was not apparent to a reasonable person.

For more information, see FindLaw's FAQ on Product Liability Law and information on the Legal Basis for Product Liability cases.

Get Professional Legal Help With a Warning Defect Claim

When companies fail to warn about the dangers associated with their products, they harm consumers. Fortunately, those injured due to defective warnings can sue the company responsible for damages.

Product liability lawsuits can be complex. Talk to a product liability attorney to help you get started. Schedule your free case evaluation and put their expertise to work for you.

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