Reducing Risk, Protecting People

Product Liability Law and Safety Best Practices

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems | 19th Jul 2019

Product Liability Law

Avoid Legal Liability by Following Safety Best Practices
When turning on the TV these days, you’re most likely going to see an ad from a personal injury lawyer. Across the United States, law firms are spending over $1 billion on television ads targeting consumers who may have sustained an injury due to an unsafe product.

Product liability suits can arise from a variety of causes. Understanding how these lawsuits work can help you protect your company from legal liability.

The Basics of Product Liability Law
As a ground principle, the law allows people to sue for compensation if another person or entity has acted negligently and this negligence caused injury. However, product liability lawsuits can differ in some major ways from other types of injury cases such as car accidents.

In a product liability case, plaintiffs typically allege that a company's product was unsafe and caused them injury. Even if they prove these two things, typically they would still have to prove a third element: that the company was negligent in making and selling that product. Here, the standard is somewhat different from other injury cases. Generally, a company can be negligent if:

  • The product's design was unsafe, or:
  • The product was manufactured with a defect that made it unsafe, or:
  • The product's lack of proper labeling, packaging and/or instructions made it unsafe

Most products on the market can be used in an unsafe way if one tries hard enough. The right labeling can be a powerful defense against liability.

Unsafe Products
In some cases, the link between a product and potential harm can be straightforward. For example, it is clear that it is dangerous to make a car without functioning brakes. In other cases, the connection can be less obvious. Some cases are filed because a study comes out linking a product's ingredients to a medical problem. In other situations, a product may present a safety hazard but only under particular circumstances such as heat exposure.

Acceptable Risk
The law acknowledges that it is not practically possible to make a product that will present no risk whatsoever to anyone under any circumstances. Thus, manufacturers are allowed to make cars despite the very real risks of a crash. Generally, a product maker's legal duty consists of making the product reasonably safe. What is reasonable can differ depending on the product and who is its intended consumer. Many products cannot be made completely safe without also making it impossible to use them for their intended purpose.

The Role of Proper Labeling
While companies do not have to make risk-free products, their legal duty includes reducing risks so far as reasonably possible. In many cases, this means proper labeling.

Labeling increases safety and decreases risk when it does a good job of warning consumers about the type of risk they may encounter. Thus, figuring out how to label your product means conducting a safety assessment or review and identifying applicable risks. This assessment should take into account the intended use of the product, who is likely to use it and whether there is a common off-label use. For many products, you might identify specific settings that would increase or create risks.

For example, you may warn against letting children use a certain product. Other common warnings may include:

  • Hazardous temperatures
  • Exposure to flame
  • Potential exposure to chemicals

Your label should also include instructions on safety procedures to avoid or minimize risks, if applicable, such as:

  • Always use protective clothing
  • Do not inhale
  • Store below x temperature
  • Do not combine with x chemical
  • Use only x voltage

Some products are complicated to use and need more extensive instructions for optimal safety. Here, you may need prominent labeling indicating it is dangerous to use the product without reading the enclosed instructions first.

When deciding what risks to label for, you cannot rely on consumers' common sense. Courts will not ask whether it was a good idea for the plaintiff to use the product the way he or she did. Rather, they will ask whether the manufacturer could have reasonably foreseen this type of usage. While you probably do not have to imagine every possible scenario, no matter how farfetched, do take into account likely types of misuse. This is the reason safety labels may need to state the obvious, such as that a sawblade is sharp and can cause injury.

Important Requirements for Safety Labels
In addition to containing appropriate safety information, labels must also be visible and easy to identify. You cannot expect consumers to rummage through packaging material, inspect the product carefully or read through the manual before using the product. They should do these things, but courts know they often do not and expect your safety labelling practices to take this into account. Thus, your labels should be clearly visible and legible before the consumer is able to use the product.

Protect your company from legal liability by selecting visible, accurate labels that comply with relevant laws and industry standards. Clarion Safety Systems offers a variety of labels for a wide range of products. Choose from Clarion's selection or create custom labeling as part of your safety and liability protection efforts.

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