When a manufacturer produces a product, all of the potential dangers must be printed on a warning label before it can be distributed to consumers. Though the actual laws regarding manufacturer duties are broad and vary from state to state, there are two minimum duties that must be fulfilled:
1. A manufacturer is required to warn consumers of any dangers that may be present while using a product.
2. A manufacturer must provide instructions to users on how to safely use a product in order to avoid dangers.
When is a Warning Required?
A warning is required when:
- A product presents a danger to the consumer;
- The manufacturer is aware or should be aware of the danger;
- Danger is present when the product is being used in its intended manner, or through an anticipated misuse; and
- The reasonable user would not be immediately aware of the danger.
But what happens when a warning label is simply not enough to keep people safe? What if the dangers could be eliminated or significantly reduced before a product hits the store shelves? From a legal standpoint, there are two sides to product liability:
Point of view of minority of states - If a manufacturer warns of all the potential dangers, it is not liable for consumer injuries
Point of view of majority of states - A warning is not enough if a manufacturer recognizes potential dangers and a fix can be made, as long as:
- It is cost efficient
- The product remains desirable for its originally intended use
Two scenarios below will compare and contrast each point of view above.
Scenario 1 – An individual ruptures an eardrum while using a Q-Tip. The Q-Tip box has a warning, but no safety feature to keep the eardrum safe.
Scenario 2 – A person cuts off a finger with a miter saw. In this scenario, the miter saw has a warning, but no shield to keep the fingers from the blade. (Pretend the picture doesn’t show a shield.)
Question 1 – Is there a foreseen harm while using the product either from use or misuse?
Scenario 1 – Yes. Potential harm to the ear from the Q-tip.
Scenario 2 – Yes. Potential harm to the hand from the miter saw.
Question 2 – Is a warning required for the product?
Scenario 1 – Yes. A foreseeable danger that is present.
Scenario 2 – Yes. A foreseeable danger that is present.
Question 3 – This is where we will compare the two points of view.
Point of view #1 – Is a warning sufficient for each product?
Scenarios 1 and 2 – Yes. So long as the manufacturer warns of the danger, it is 100% up to the user to avoid accidents.
Point of view #2 – A warning is not enough sufficient if there is an easy fix. So, is there an easy fix?
Scenario 1 – A warning is enough because there is no easy fix. There is not an available fix or modification that would improve the safety of the Q-tip, while also preserving the desirability of the product. If you make a Q-tip too big to fit in the ear, no one would want the Q-tip. Therefore, a warning is sufficient.
Scenario 2 – A warning is not sufficient because it is easy to add a shield. By adding a shield, the saw is safer to use. In this case, POV #2 shows that if an inexpensive modification can be made to a dangerous product, a warning is not sufficient. (By the way, this is exactly why they put shields on miter saws. Without lawsuits forcing manufacturers to put shields on the saws, most would still only have warnings – leading to more accidents.)
Which Point of View is Correct?
It is our point of view that the burden should be put on the manufacturer. The real question is: Who is in the best position to stop the most accidents? While individuals shouldn’t put their fingers in the way of saw blades and shouldn’t put Q-tips too far into the ear canal, we all know that some people will by accident. In the end, it is the manufacturer who can, in certain situations, can stop accidents. And if the manufacturer can stop accidents through cost effective means without damaging the function of the product, then the manufacturer should. This is why we have seatbelts, airbags and child-safe pill bottles. This doesn’t mean that individuals should be careless. Instead, it means that society recognizes that the manufacturers are in the best position to prevent most accidental injuries.