Product Warning Labels and Protection Against Liability Lawsuits
We have all purchased a new consumer product with several labels, stickers, and product inserts containing warnings, disclaimers and oversimplified directions. The warnings can actually be humorous at times as illustrated in the following examples:
· On Sears hair dryer: Do not use while sleeping
· On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding: Product will be hot
· On Rowenta Iron: Do not iron clothes on body.
· On Nytol (a sleep aid): Warning: May cause drowsiness.
· On a Swedish chainsaw: Do no attempt to stop chainsaw
with your hands.
Obviously, with a little common sense, your average consumer can avoid the injuries that the above statements are attempting to warn against. One can argue that these warnings provide protection to the manufacturers against lawsuits based upon personal injury.
There are many infamous cases where damages were awarded to consumers due to a personal injury resulting from what is claimed to be negligence, failure to warn or a product defect. According to public opinion, some of these lawsuits are frivolous and are causing the decline of our civil justice system. An examination of cases against tobacco companies will provide us with some conflicting information regarding product warning labels. Do they provide manufacturers with adequate protection against this type of lawsuit?
By law, product manufacturers are responsible to give a reasonable warning when the product they manufacture poses a foreseeable risk of injury or harm. Courts use the following factors to consider a manufacturer's duty to warn: "the magnitude or severity of the likely harm, the ease or difficulty of providing an appropriate warning, and the likely effectiveness of a warning" (Mallor, etal. 377) in addition to the manufacturer's ability to reasonably foresee the risk.
Are people drying their hair while sleeping or ironing clothes while wearing them foreseeable risks? As lawsuits become more outrageous, so do the warnings and there is an outcry for reform in our civil justice system to minimize frivolous lawsuits. According to a poll conducted by Nation's Business magazine (February, 1998) 2/3 of the businesses that responded had been named as defendants in product liability lawsuits. An overwhelming majority felt that frivolous lawsuits are definitely a problem and that "people who file lawsuits (should) pay the defendant's legal fees if they lose". Eighty percent were in favor of a "federal law being enacted to supersede conflicting state laws on the liability of a company if someone using it's product is injured".
Courts use a risk/utility analysis to determine whether the risks associated with certain inherently unsafe products are reasonable. To make the determination, courts weigh the availability of safer alternatives and whether the risks of using the product outweigh that...