Are Manufacturers Required to Warn Consumers About Misusing Their Products?

On the surface, bizarre warning labels can be somewhat entertaining. After all, what person in their right mind would use a product in such an absurd way?

Examples of famously ridiculous warning labels include:

  • Laundry Machine: “DO NOT put any person in this washer.”
  • Vending Machines: “Tipping or rocking may cause serious injury or death.”
  • Clothing Iron: “Do not iron clothes on body.”
  • Chainsaw: “Do not hold the wrong end of a chainsaw.”
  • Sleeping Pills: “May cause drowsiness.”
  • Hair Dryer: “Do not use while sleeping.”
  • Super Hero Costume: “This costume does not enable flight or super strength.”
  • iPod Shuffle: “Do not eat iPod Shuffle.”

Many believe that every preposterous warning label has a lawsuit with an oblivious plaintiff behind it. But that’s not always how companies decide to create a warning label. This article discusses a manufacturer’s legal obligation to warn consumers about the dangers of misusing their products.

Failure to Warn

In general, manufacturers may be liable for any injuries that result from using products that present an unreasonable risk of harm to the public. Manufacturers also have a duty to warn consumers about the dangers of using their products. For example, tobacco products are now required to include warnings about the health risks of smoking. Additionally, certain electronics products are required to have warnings about the dangers of electric shock.

Misuse Defense

Historically, manufacturers could use evidence of the consumer’s misuse or abuse of a product to defend against products liability claims. However, state courts, including Texas, stopped recognizing consumer misuse as a viable defense.

A product only becomes unreasonably dangerous for uses that deviate from its intended use. What dangers could possibly befall the user if they used a toaster exactly as intended?  Put another way, what business would create a product with the purpose of harming the user and others if used properly (other than weapons)?

Consider the fact that toy companies typically do not intend for users to swallow many of their products. However, toy manufacturers must nevertheless warn about potential choking hazards because children sometimes misuse toys by swallowing them.

Foreseeable Use

As states stopped recognizing product misuse as a defense against liability for injury-inducing products, they began articulating a manufacturer’s duty to warn based on the foreseeable use and misuse of their products.  As a corollary, manufacturers are not liable for the unforeseeable misuse of their products.

Case in point: When the iPod Shuffle was introduced, jokes began circulating internet forums about how the product resembled a stick of gum. Although people may not have seriously considered eating the iPod shuffle, the fact that they were even joking about eating it is evidence that doing so is a foreseeable misuse.

Another recent example involves products with harmful chemicals, such as automotive fluids and household cleaning products. These products invariably include warnings against ingesting the product and informed users about what to do if they accidentally did.

When laundry detergent companies introduced individually portioned “pods” of detergent to the market, online comedy and satirical websites made fun of how attractive the pods looked for consumption. Over time, teenagers began daring each other to eat the detergent pods. Numerous online videos depicted teens attempting to eat detergent pods, consequently gagging and spitting them out in disgust. Many people who tried to meet the challenge were ultimately hospitalized and treated for chemical burns and poisoning.

Although most people believe common sense dictates against ingesting detergent pods, warning labels must nevertheless address any foreseeable use or misuse of a product. As you can see, sometimes the most foreseeable use of a product is the one furthest from common sense.

Contact an Experienced Products Liability Attorney in Bryan

Have you or a loved one been injured as a result of using a commercial product? Products liability cases can pit plaintiffs against powerful corporations. As a result, you should consult an experienced Bryan products liability attorney to represent you. At Waltman & Grisham Attorneys at Law, we have over 30 years of experience litigating products liability cases against different types of manufacturers. You can count on us to relentlessly advocate for your right to bring product manufacturers to justice for injuries resulting from their failure to provide adequate warning labels.

To arrange a free initial consultation with one of our skilled products liability attorneys, contact Waltman & Grisham Attorneys at Law online or call (979) 227-4888 today!