Do Disclaimers Prevent Product Liability Claims?

If you're injured by a dangerous or defective product, can a disclaimer prevent you from a successful injury claim?

A product liability claim may arise when a defective or unreasonably dangerous product causes harm to a consumer.

Strict rules are imposed on manufacturers, distributors or wholesalers -- and even on retailers of products in some cases -- to ensure that goods enter the marketplace free of defects and unreasonable risks.

Product Disclaimers

A product manufacturer's use of a disclaimer -- whether as a warning label on the product itself or as part of instructions or other material accompanying the product -- usually will not be enough to provide a complete defense to a product liability claim.

A manufacturer must provide basic instructions or warnings to consumers when it comes to potential dangers associated with a product's use -- both hazards the manufacturer knows of, and those the manufacturer could reasonably be expected to have knowledge of.

For instance, when you see a boxed warning on a hair dryer alerting consumers of the risk of using the appliance around water, the warning is there because manufacturers know that it is foreseeable that people will use their product near sinks and bathtubs.

What If You Don't "Heed the Warnings"?

If you disobey clear instructions that are specifically included in a highly visible disclaimer, that will likely hurt your case, and your own negligence could be said to have caused your injury. This is especially true where a reasonable person would not have done what you did (i.e., if you take a hair dryer into the shower) 

But a disclaimer does not absolve the manufacturer of the responsibility to make sure a product is reasonably safe, nor does it absolve the manufacturer of liability for risks that an ordinary consumer would not associate with the product.

For instance, when a new drug is released, a manufacturer cannot make a blanket statement saying "this product has side effects," and be absolved of all liability for any health problems that stem from the drug's use. The disclaimer must be reasonable, clear, and explicit, and it must provide specific information on the known health risks associated with the drug.

And, even where a disclaimer does disclose specific risks linked to a product's use, a manufacturer will not be able to rely on such a disclaimer to avoid liability, if the dangers of the product outweigh the benefits of its use.

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