Evaluating Product Warnings
Evaluating product warnings is an important part of maintaining consumer safety. Companies are taken to task when product manufacturing, design or warnings are inadequate. It is essential to evaluate the product warning thoroughly prior to filing a claim against the manufacturer if a client was injured. Inadequate product warnings have many forms, so it is important to retain an experienced attorney with the resources to obtain effective expert counsel. Let’s look at some of the criteria an attorney can use in evaluating product warnings.
The Warning Must Be Seen
It goes without saying that the consumer must see the product warning. If the warning is not received by the consumer, it is without merit. This happens in a number of ways. Some products have the warning in an area the consumer may miss such as on the base of the box. Some warnings are written in small print or worded in a way that is difficult to understand. In order for the warning to be read, it should be placed in a prominent area using a large, multicolored font. Other ways of ensuring the warning is received is to make it impossible to open the packaging without seeing the warning or removing it. Attaching the warning to a tag that must be removed to use the product is another idea. So, one of the first steps in evaluating product warnings is to ensure that the consumer sees it.
A Warning Provides Needed Information
A warning must be complete. That is to say, it must provide all the information the consumer needs to stay safe. It must tell the consumer specifically what the hazard is and what can be done to avoid it. Let’s say that a couple bought a piece of furniture meant to hold clothes for their child’s bedroom. The bureau needed to be assembled, and the couple did that by carefully following the instructions. Buried in the instruction pamphlet was a warning that the bureau could fall forward if more than one drawer were opened at a time. There were no suggestions given as to how to prevent this potentially fatal accident. Unfortunately, the unit was not secured to the wall, the child opened two drawers and was injured by the weight of the bureau. Clearly, when evaluating product warnings, this unit failed on two counts. The warning was not prominently displayed, and it lacked sufficient information.
Does the Warning Have a Signal Word?
Signal words catch the consumer’s attention. Examples of signal words are Caution, Danger or Warning. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency requires a signal word to be used on the majority of pesticide products. They must be written in capital letters and placed on the front of the product container. Some manufacturers add a pictogram or icon next to the word to convey its meaning. Many manufacturers do this for non-chemical substances too in an attempt to enhance the chance the warning will be seen. They also include the admonition that not taking heed to the warning can cause serious injury or death. Unfortunately, many other manufacturers do not.
Check for Ambiguity When Evaluating Product Warnings
A product warning cannot be ambiguous. Clarity is essential. A warning can never leave the consumer wondering what the manufacturer had in mind. In the end, it is necessary to explain exactly why the item might be hazardous, under what conditions the danger could occur and how to prevent serious injury.
Avoid Unnecessary Warnings
Overzealousness when writing a warning can cause the consumer to disregard it in its entirety. For instance, if several unneeded warnings are included in the warning area along with one that indeed points to something that is hazardous, the consumer may take the entire list lightly or stop reading. The warning must be concise and to the point to have the necessary impact. When evaluating product warnings, it is essential to determine if the hazard was mentioned and to check for other superfluous warnings.
Watch YouTube Video: World’s Dumbest Warning Labels. In the video below, Bob Dorigo Jones from the Center for America discusses the product warning labels that lack common sense.
Contradicting Statements in the Warning
Contradicting statements in the warning make it a guessing game for the consumer. Guess wrong, and the consumer pays with physical and possibly financial loss. An example would be information about the pressure needed to properly inflate tires. The limits should be stated in clear terms since both overinflation and underinflation can be a problem. However, some brands mention that it might be a good idea to keep the tires at a lower pressure in hot weather because they expand. This information may be confusing and contradictory to the user if not presented clearly.
List Multiple Warnings Correctly
If there are multiple warnings, list them in such a way that the consumer will read them. The worst hazard should be listed first. This listing should also be one that the consumer was least likely to think of.
Graphics in the Warning
It is important that the graphics can easily be identified as a pictorial representation of the hazard. Overall, the graphic needs to be clear to the reader. For example, earplugs used to prevent hearing damage when using a rifle that was effective if used along with ear muffs should show the user putting the earmuffs on along with the ear plugs.
How Many Errors Are Needed to Call a Warning Inadequate?
It is unnecessary for the warning to fail in all the factors listed above. Depending on the nature of the failure, even one or two can be sufficient to call the warning inadequate. Since studies have shown that warnings are effective in keeping consumers safe, they need to be worded properly and able to catch the person’s attention. By evaluating the warning by observation and experience, it is possible to show that it could have been improved. In addition, it is helpful to show that the manufacturer was not trying to prevent an injury by issuing a proper warning. An expert witness can show that with some thought the warning could have been restructured and wasn’t. This reflects poorly on the manufacturer.
Sacramento Products Liability Attorneys
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento products liability attorney. A poor warning label can lead to disastrous consequences for the consumer. A badly labeled warning may have caused traumatic injury or even death for someone you know or a member of your family. Give me a call for free and friendly advice at (916) 921-6400 in Sacramento, or use my toll-free number (800) 404-5400 outside of the city limits. You can also reach me online.
Learn more about my practice on the following pages:
Image by burlesonmatthew from Pixabay
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