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PRODUCT LIABILITY: THE USE OF WARNINGS

 

In designing a product for safety, warnings should be considered as a last resort. Once a hazard is identified, the design engineer should design it out. If this cannot be done without affecting the subsequent usefulness of the product or without affecting the subsequent usefulness of the product or without incurring unreasonable costs, then one should try to guard against that hazard. If this cannot be done without affecting the subsequent usefulness of the product, and/or at an unreasonable cost, then one should warn against the hazard as a last resort.

Failure to Provide Adequate Warning

An effective warning is one that is easily understood, comprehensible, and serves to modify what might be unsafe behavior. When evaluating a failure to provide adequate warning allegation, the investigative engineer must assess whether or not the warning design communicated a) the type of hazard, b) the magnitude of risk, and c) action to minimize that risk. Warnings can take one of three forms: automatic, visual, or instructive. An automatic warning for example might be a light which goes on or a sound which goes off when the hazard is present. The investigative engineer must assess if the available response time after a warning is given was adequate for a person to take action, and if the device was easy to see or hear and understand without error or misinterpretation.

Caution, Warning, Danger

A visual warning consists of large words or pictures which communicate the hazard at glance. "Caution" is used when an emphatic notice is required to indicate correct operating or maintenance procedures. It should only be used to indicate potential equipment damage, not bodily injury. "Warning" calls attention to a potential danger that may result in bodily injury. "Danger" is the most emphatic word and is used when there is a risk of immediate peril and no safeguard can be provided. Finally, instructive warnings state the potential results of uses of the product, prescribed procedures, complete, correct and adequate for operations to be performed.

In summary, an adequate warning is harder to provide than a good design. However, in a large percentage of cases, failure to provide adequate warning signifies in order to avoid liability, the product design must be altered.

 
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