A Third Way Products Could Be Considered Defective

Last week, I briefly described products liability law, which products are covered and that a product could be defectively manufactured or defectively designed. There is a third way that a product could be considered defective.

Even though a product is designed and then manufactured properly, it can still be defective if it is not accompanied by proper warnings and instructions concerning its use. The user must receive warnings and instructions about the possible hidden risks of using the product.  For example, a properly designed and manufactured cleaning agent, one that contains the proper chemical mixture and one that cleans correctly, can still be defective if the label does not warn the user to wear protective gloves.

For example, a sharp knife is intended to be used to carve the Thanksgiving turkey.  Although you may cut your finger, the sharp knife is not a defective product. The knife was meant to be sharp, no warning is needed because the danger of a sharp knife is obvious to everyone.

However, consider my mechanic client who must use his hands to support his family.  The mechanic reaches under his large toolbox to retrieve a dropped screw driver. The bottom frame of this large toolbox contained a very sharp metal edge that was not rounded or covered.  There was no warning on the toolbox advising the mechanic that the bottom frame was an unfinished, sharp edge. When the mechanic reached under the toolbox for his screwdriver,  something that was bound to happen, he cut his hand and lost time from work. The sharp knife was not a defective product because it was intended to be used to cut things although someone’s finger got cut, that is an obvious risk. The large toolbox with the sharp frame may be a defective product, it was being used for its intended purpose, it was reasonable to assume that the mechanic would have to reach under it and yet it was either designed improperly or manufactured defectively because it contained a very sharp edge. If, for some reason, the tool box had to be designed and manufactured with a sharp, hidden bottom edge, then there should have been warnings about that dangerous, hidden condition. Without those warnings, the tool box could be a defective product.

This failure to warn theory of products liability would not be relevant in our Toyota example. Remember that warnings are generally required for hidden dangers, that is, those that simply could not be designed out of the product. Folks injured in accidents caused by the unintended sudden acceleration of their cars will likely focus on design and manufacturing

As you have now read, a product can be considered defective if it is manufactured or designed improperly or if it fails to contain a warning about a hidden danger. Next time, I will write about who can be held responsible for injuries caused by defective products. In the meantime . . . lets be careful out there.  Thanks for reading.

If you have any questions or would like to read about some other legal issue, just let me know.  John A. Orlando, Esquire can be reached in his office at 115 Fayette Street, by phone at (610) 897-2576 or by email at orlandoj@whiteandwilliams.com.