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Obvious Dangers, & Sophisticated Users, in Strict Liability Actions


As a general rule, manufacturers have no duty to warn consumers of a product’s known or recognized dangers. (This is true in negligence as well as products liability law.)

Courts determine whether a danger is “known” or “recognized,” on an objective scale. Whether or not the injured user was actually aware of the danger is not relevant to the decision (except to the extent it is in line with the common knowledge or experience of users generally).


Sometimes, products that are not normally handled by or sold to the general public may possess dangers which are not “obvious” or “known” in a public sense, but are known to or recognized by the people who normally use or handle the product(s). These users, who have specialized knowledge about the products in question, are considered “sophisticated users” with regard to the products in question. Their status as sophisticated users arises as a result of their special training in or knowledge about the handling of the relevant products.

An example of a “sophisticated user” might be a chef trained to work with liquid nitrogen as a freezing component in a commercial kitchen. Liquid nitrogen has dangerous properties, and can cause serious harm if not handled properly (and, sometimes, even when handled as intended).

Manufacturers have no duty to warn sophisticated users about risks or dangers of which the sophisticated users are (or should be) aware, as a result of their use or training in the use of these unusual products.

An injured plaintiff’s status as a sophisticated user is determined as of the time of the injury, using an objective standard. If the plaintiff represents that he or she is a member of the group of users which possesses the skill or training to use the product in question, and if those users are considered “sophisticated users” with regard to the product, then the plaintiff is presumed to have the skills and knowledge expected of that group.

For example, trained police offers are often considered “sophisticated users” with regard to handguns, particularly with regard to the types and models of handguns commonly utilized by police departments.

It’s important to note, however, that the sophisticated user defense applies to warning defects–not design or manufacturing defects. Even sophisticated users are not expected to anticipate that defects in the design or manufacturing process may have rendered a product unreasonably dangerous to use.

Also, the defense does not apply where the injured plaintiff is not a sophisticated user, even if the product was originally purchased or obtained by a person with sophisticated user status.



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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