Sometimes, there’s a warning label on a product that makes you stop and shake your head.  In fact, Forbes magazine puts out a list of the “24 stunningly dumb warning labels,” some of the highlights include Nytol (a proven night time sleep aid) with the warning that it may cause drowsiness, as well as warning those not to hold the wrong end of a chainsaw.  Why do we have these sometimes silly warning labels?

Product liability lawsuits can be huge money makers for plaintiffs and attorneys.  In 2007, the median jury award for a product liability case was about $1.9million.  These lawsuits can quickly add up and put a company out of business, despite the fact that many of these warnings should go without saying.  So, should a company be forced to put these silly warning labels on their products?

What Is An Obvious Danger In A Product?

For many courts, if the danger is obvious to most people, it will reduce the company’s obligation to warn consumers.  However, just because the danger is obvious, a court won’t necessarily hold that there is no duty to warn consumers, just that the damages are limited.  In fact, if an injured person can show that some substantial minority of people, including the injured person, were not aware of the danger.

If an injured person can show that there is a safer alternative, they may be able to succeed in a lawsuit.  For example, if Jose, a 16 year old immigrant, who works for Holes, a food service company.  Holes has bought a meat grinder made 40 years before by Grinder Co.  Grinder manufactured the grinder with a safety guard, but Holes has removed the guard because people complained it was difficult to use and got in the way.  The grinder doesn’t contain any warning that use of the machine without a guard might be dangerous.   Jose uses the grinder without the guard and ends up losing part of his left hand and forearm when his arm gets caught in the machine.  Jose sues both Holes and Grinder Co.  Jose would actually be able to file a lawsuit and might win because it is easy to add a warning to the machine and would cost the company very little.

What do you think?  Should a company have to post warnings even if the danger is obvious?