Do Manufacturers Have to Warn Consumers of Product Risks?
THE MANUFACTURER’S DUTY TO WARN (AND INSTRUCT)
Under products liability law (strict liability), manufacturers may be held liable for injuries caused by products which were released or sold without proper warning labels and instructions, if the failure to include the relevant warnings or use instructions rendered the product unreasonably dangerous.*
Generally, the law requires a manufacturer to:
— Provide users with reasonably necessary instructions for proper, safe use of the product.
— Warn users of hidden or non-obvious dangers the product may cause or present.
*Note: there are some exceptions to this rule. Consult an attorney without delay if you manufacture products, or were injured by a product, to obtain a comprehensive evaluation of your legal rights and responsibilities.
MANUFACTURERS AND DISTRIBUTORS GENERALLY MUST ENSURE THAT NECESSARY PRODUCT WARNINGS REACH THE END-CONSUMER
Manufacturers generally cannot satisfy the legal requirements to warn consumers of actual or potential product dangers by providing warnings and use instructions to intermediaries, such as wholesalers or retail sellers.
While the manufacturer should make intermediaries aware of product risks and use instructions (where relevant to the intermediary’s role in the sales and distribution process), the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the proper instructions and warnings reach the end-consumer also. This is one reason many manufacturers print instructions and warnings on product packaging, package inserts, and (in many cases) on the products themselves.
The only real exception to this rule arises where the manufacturer (or distributor) is actually incapable of conveying the necessary warnings or instructions to consumers.
For example, a product so small that appropriate warnings cannot be printed on the product or its packaging, and distributed under circumstances where warning or instruction booklets cannot be provided along with the product. Another example involves products whose uses are so technical that laypersons cannot reasonably evaluate the risks, even if given the proper technical information. However, manufacturers generally face a heavy burden of proof when it comes to claims that it was “impossible” to provide consumers with reasonable, effective warnings or product use instructions.
Manufacturers and distributors should consult with experienced attorneys and warning specialists to ensure that products are properly labeled and that all legally-mandated warnings and instructions are property written and included with their products. Failure to include proper warnings and/or properly written instructions could result in injuries to consumers as well as significant legal and financial liability.