Product Warning Labels: What They Do – And Don’t – Tell Us

A “not intended for highway use” warning on a wheelbarrow. A reminder to “remove child before folding” on a baby stroller. A warning that an iron-on patch should not be applied while someone is actually wearing the shirt.

These are all examples of “stupid warning labels,” compiled for a Reader’s Digest article. But while these examples might be silly, they do spark some important questions about products and consumer safety. What is the point of a warning label, anyway? What are manufacturers required to tell us about dangerous products? And more importantly, what aren’t they telling us?

The Role of Warning Labels

A warning label is a label that is attached, stuck to, or otherwise displayed on a product. It tells users about potential risks associated with using the product. Warning labels appear on a wide variety of products, from cigarettes and medications to children’s toys and kitchen appliances. Some common warnings include those about:

  • Choking
  • Burns
  • Falls
  • Lacerations
  • Tip-overs
  • Increased risk of certain diseases or injuries
  • Potential side effects
  • How the product could interact with other products
  • Ways to clean, handle, or prepare food to avoid disease or contaminants

Sometimes, they might seem like they are stating the obvious, like a frozen pizza stating that it will be hot when it comes out of the oven.  But while they may seem unnecessary, warning labels play an important role, both for consumers and companies.

Protecting Consumers

For customers, warning labels serve to protect them from any dangers that may be associated with the product. However, manufacturers are only required to include warnings about dangers that might not be readily apparent. For example, if someone buys a knife, they are expected to know that the knife is sharp. Therefore, it is not the manufacture’s duty to include a warning about the sharpness of the knife. On the other hand, if the knife could break when used against certain surfaces, that is not something the customer is expected to be aware of. In this case, the manufacturer should include a warning about how to properly use the knife to avoid lacerations or other injuries.

Preventing Lawsuits

Warning labels also serve to protect manufacturers against potential lawsuits. For example, if a toy clearly states that it has small parts and should not be used around a baby, they have done their part to warn the consumer. If someone ignores this and allows a baby to play with the toy, leading to a choking-related injury, the blame might rest with the consumer, since they chose to ignore the warning label. Similarly, if someone chooses to drink and drive, despite a clear warning on a beer can that consuming it could impair driving ability, the beer manufacturer is likely not liable for any injuries that occur during a subsequent drunk driving accident.

Warning Label Lawsuits

However, situations can still arise where a manufacturer can be responsible for a consumer’s injuries, despite the use of warning labels. A manufacturer could be held liable for product-related injuries if their warning label is

  • Misleading
  • Illegible or hard to read
  • Intentionally confusing

For example, if a cigarette manufacturer fails to disclose that smoking the cigarette increases the risk of a certain kind of lung cancer, they could potentially be liable. A current example of this is currently unfolding with a class-action lawsuit against Juul, a popular manufacturer of e-cigarettes. The lawsuit states that Juul did not clearly disclose that its products contained nicotine, leading to people, especially teens and children, becoming addicted to what they believed what a healthier alternative to cigarettes.

While product warning labels might seem pointless or downright stupid, it’s always important to pay attention!

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The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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