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New Warnings About Product Liability

Two new court cases show that you can't rely on product warnings alone to protect your company from liability.

These two cases cite the new Restatement of Torts, which says that product warnings are just one factor for courts to consider. The prior Restatement had insulated manufacturers from liability where adequate warning was given.

Case #1: The plaintiff saw the prominent warning against placing a 16-inch tire on a 16.5-inch rim. The warning also showed a person being thrown into the air by an exploding tire. Nevertheless, the plaintiff mounted the smaller tire on the larger rim. The tire exploded, causing permanent brain damage.

The plaintiff's attorney argued that the manufacturer should have incorporated a safer design used by other tire manufacturers. Result: the Texas Supreme Court affirmed a jury award for $10.3 million in damages.

Case #2: As a driver backed up a milling machine, the alarm didn't sound and the driver didn't see his co-worker. The co-worker was severely injured when the machine crushed his foot and leg. In the operating manual, the manufacturer had warned workers to stay at least ten feet away from the machine when it was operating, to verify that the alarm was working and to check the area for other people. The machine also had a sign instructing people to keep ten feet away.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals said that warnings do not "immunize a manufacturer from any liability caused by its defectively designed product." Result: it upheld the jury award of $16.7 million in damages.

In other words, your company won't be protected from liability any longer just by sticking a warning label on its products. Practical advice: spend some extra effort ensuring the safety of the products you offer to the public.

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