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Defective Warning Claims

A product is considered defective if it there is a flaw in its design, if it was improperly manufactured or if the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings or directions for its use. The manufacturer has a duty to warn of any known dangers of using a product. There is also a duty to warn of any dangers the manufacturer could have anticipated if the product were misused.

Product Instructions


Instructions tell the product user the proper way to use the product. The failure to provide adequate instructions for use is also considered to be grounds for holding the manufacturer liable if the consumer is injured while using the product.

Product Warnings


A warning is written advice or information given to the product user that is intended to reduce the risk of personal injury or property damage as a result of using the product. Warning defect claims are based on either a failure to warn or an inadequate warning of a product’s dangers by the manufacturer.

Warnings and Instructions Must be Adequate


The warning and the instructions must be legally adequate, both in form and content. The form of the warning must attract the user’s attention. In other words, the warning has to be conspicuous. The content of the warning must effectively communicate any danger to the user. The instructions must tell the user the proper way to use the product. The adequacy of the warning or instructions is generally a factual question for the jury to decide in a products liability case. Occasionally, the courts have held that the adequacy of a warning is a question of law to be decided by the court instead of the jury. For example, the Hawaii Supreme Court concluded that a manufacturer of a tire rim had met its duty to adequately warn as a matter of law since it provided a 52-page safety and service manual with its product.

Unavoidably Unsafe Products


Unavoidably unsafe products are products that cannot be made safe for their ordinary use, such as prescription drugs and vaccines. In such cases, the manufacturer has a duty to provide proper directions for use and an adequate warning of the dangers associated with product use.

Tests for Determining Manufacturer’s Liability


There are two basic tests for determining whether the manufacturer should be held liable for warning defects. One test is the risk-utility balancing test. This test involves an assessment of the advantages and the disadvantages of the product. The manufacturer will be held liable if the plaintiff shows that the product as designed was not reasonably safe and that there was a safer design that was practical at the time of manufacture. The risk-utility analysis recognizes that sometimes a product’s inherent dangers cannot be eliminated without completely doing away with its benefits. Under the consumer expectation test, the plaintiff must show the product was more dangerous than the ordinary consumer would expect.

Warnings and Causation


In a products liability case based on a failure to warn, the plaintiff must show that the manufacturer’s failure to adequately warn or give instructions was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury. In other words, the plaintiff must show that he or she would have used the product differently and would have taken precautions to protect himself or herself if warned of any dangers or given proper directions for use.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.