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Defendant’s “Knowledge” & Warning Labels in Strict Liability Cases

In Products Liability Actions Based on Failure to Warn or Lack of Proper Warning Labels, the Defendant Must Have Known About the Risk

When a plaintiff sues a defendant on a strict liability theory based on “failure to warn” or improper warning labels, the defendant generally cannot be held liable unless the plaintiff can prove that the defendant had advance knowledge of the danger.

The requisite knowledge can take one of two forms:

— The defendant actually knew of the risks the product presented;


— The defendant should have known about the risks, based on the state of industry or scientific knowledge.

In both cases, the defendant’s knowledge is tested at the time the product was manufactured and/or distributed.

Strict liability (aka “products liability”) law does not hold defendants liable for failing to warn consumers (or others) of risks which were not actually known to the defendant and of which the defendant had no reasonable reason to be aware.

The issue of what a defendant “should have known” relates to the general state of knowledge within the industry and/or the relevant scientific community (if appropriate). However, a defendant is not necessarily assumed–or required–to have knowledge of cutting edge technologies, unless those technologies are generally known within the relevant industry. Technologies developed, or risks discovered, after the product was manufactured probably will not be deemed facts the defendant knew or should have known. Remember: the test is what the defendant knew at the time the product was manufactured, not at the time of the injury.

Manufacturers Must Ensure that Warning Labels Reach the Consumer

Manufacturers (and distributors, to the extent products liability applies) have a legal obligation to ensure that required warnings and instructions actually reach the end consumer–regardless of the number of intermediaries between the manufacturer and the consumer.

The law does recognize an exception if there is no feasible way for the manufacturer to ensure that warnings reach the consumer, but this exception is rare and can be difficult to prove. (In such cases, the manufacturer must still provide the warnings to intermediaries, where possible.)

Note that use of warning labels indicates a manufacturer was aware of risks associated with the product to which or on which the labels were applied. Where a manufacturer knows that a product can be hazardous, the manufacturer has a legal obligation to provide reasonably detailed warning labels which properly convey the appropriate level of information about product risks and hazards.


DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice to any person or entity, and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person or entity. The law, and personal injury/products liability in particular, are complex legal topics, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal rights, claims, and/or liability may differ, based on your individual facts and circumstances. Do not rely on this or any other online article, to advise you of your legal rights. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney without delay.

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