Understanding Failure to Warn in Product Liability Cases
Making and distributing a product isn’t as simple as just, well, making and distributing. For something to be available to the public, it has a strict set of standards and requirements it must legally meet first. The idea behind regulation of any sort is safety, and product regulation is no different. When a company fails to meet proper safety criteria and a consumer gets hurt because of it, that company may find themselves liable for that consumer’s injuries. Product liability cases like that are a big hit to both reputation and funding — something every company tries as hard as possible to avoid.
While the most common way for a company to end up liable for a customer’s injuries is by producing a defective product, sometimes the issue is simply a failure to warn of the risks involved with using the product in question. The results of these claims, if fought successfully, can actually change requirements across the board and make for a safer future. For example, it was a failure to warn lawsuit that forced cigarettes to start warning about their dangers on the packs, but changes like that don’t happen easily. It takes good, aggressive representation to force companies to take responsibility for the injuries they caused — directly or indirectly.
What is a company’s duty to warn?
Tennessee law addresses two specific types of failure to warn claims: negligence and strict liability. Manufacturers who fail to reasonably display a warning of a product’s possible dangers and risks during either normal use or foreseeable misuse can be found liable for negligence. If a product fails to properly warn its users of a potential danger, it is considered defective and treated accordingly, and the manufacturer can be held liable under the standard of strict liability.
Companies must display their warnings in an obvious manner, they must actively search for flaws in their products, and they must uphold their duty of care to each and every customer.
What does “failure to warn” look like?
Did you ever notice the tag on your toaster or hair dryer that says “do not use in water”? That’s because the manufacturer is warning you that using an electrical product in water is dangerous. Failing to provide that warning could leave them liable for your injuries – but only in certain cases.
For example, a reasonable person knows that knives are sharp, that gas is flammable, that electricity and water don’t mix, and that you shouldn’t put small items up your nose. But say you have a three-year-old child who’s playing with a toy with buttons. Those buttons come loose, your child eats one, and then they start to choke. The toy manufacturer could be liable for not issuing a warning about small pieces in the toy that could lead to a choking hazard.
Or, say a person is prescribed an antibiotic to treat an infection, but is already taking a medication to control their blood pressure. The antibiotic affects the blood pressure meds, but there was no warning on the label that the medications could be contraindicated. In this case, the patient – who took a medication prescribed by a doctor who was also given no warning about potential side effects – can make a claim against the drug manufacturer under the standard of strict liability. (Unless the manufacturer actually knew and purposely kept the contraindication off the label, in which case it’s negligence again.)
Proving failure to warn in a Memphis product liability claim
Defective product claims must clear some high hurdles in a courtroom, because the burden falls entirely on the plaintiff (the injured person). For a product liability claim of any sort to be successful, the victim must prove their injuries are specifically due to the defective product, and that “the product is determined to be in a defective condition or unreasonably dangerous at the time it left the control of the manufacturer or seller.” For a failure to warn claim, that means proving:
- The potential risks were never listed anywhere on the product (or in a product insert).
- The potential risks or dangers were not reasonably foreseeable.
- You used the product in the manner it was intended to be used.
- You suffered an injury or harm as a result of using the product as intended.
- You sustained losses as a result of that injury.
To be successful, you need evidence. This can take the form of photos of your injuries as well as presentation of the product and its packaging. We always tell clients to keep the product that caused them harm, even if a recall is issued later; it can help our Memphis product liability lawyers with your case.
You need a thorough investigation into what happened as well as into the company’s processes and history. This takes resources that the average person may not have, but that Bailey & Greer does.
Finally, you need in-depth, nuanced knowledge of product liability law and experience relating it to cases like yours. Many companies, unfortunately, put profit above public safety and try to hide or minimize any warnings in order to attract more customers. They will also work as hard as possible to avoid accepting accountability for any injuries caused by their products.
When you work with a Memphis product liability attorney from our firm to fight on your behalf, you put experience on your side to gather that evidence, launch that investigation, and navigate your case with the educated ease we are trained to have.
At the end of the day, it does not matter what the product in question is. It could be a car product marketed as safe to do something it was not designed to do. It could be a home exercise device that has surprisingly flammable qualities. As long as it is a product you tried to use properly and got injured by instead, you likely have a case — no matter what the guilty company will try to tell you. They’ll have their own attorney and insurance companies trying to get them out of the woods, but you are on an equal playing field if you hire a skilled attorney to start working on your case as quickly as possible.
When you’ve been injured in any sort of accident, you need and deserve time to rest and recover. That’s why the Memphis personal injury attorneys at Bailey & Greer, PLLC do the legwork for you no matter the circumstances of your case. We have extensive knowledge and experience helping victims recover compensation after a company fails its duty of care, and we are proud to extend those tools to you. We can see you here in Memphis or in Jackson, but we are always around to answer your questions. Call us today at 901-475-7434 or use our contact form to get started.
As founder of Bailey & Greer, R. Sadler Bailey has battled his fair share of insurance giants and wrongdoers and has achieved numerous multimillion-dollar results for the victims of catastrophic injuries and their families. What’s more, he has been involved in more than 40 appellate court decisions affecting Tennessee personal injury law, including many landmark appearances before the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Read more about R. Sadler Bailey