Product Liability Warning Notices for Helmets
You might have noticed that nearly every consumer product you purchase has a warning in some form or another. You might wonder what the purpose of those ubiquitous, seemingly unnecessary labels is. We see them in plastic bags warning of the risk of suffocation to cigarette packets that clearly demonstrate the health risks involved. As a manufacturer of consumer goods, you have an inherent duty of care for your customers.
Manufacturers of safety motorcycle items like motorcycle helmets should always ensure that they have clear warnings. This is because the risk of injury where motorcycle helmets or safety helmets are involved is usually significant. Should a motorcyclist suffer injury because of “failure to warn” on the safety helmet or owner’s manual, then the helmet manufacturer, importer, and distributor may be held liable for economic losses and damages?
Adequacy of a Warning Label
Product liability law and the need to have labels are predicated on a traditional principle of law, the neighbor principle. Every manufacturer of a consumer good has the duty of care to not only his consumers but also those who may reasonably come into contact with their product. The warning should not just exist but must fulfill the requirement of being “adequate” before the eyes of the law. Of course, the process of adequacy is based on the available facts before a jury. It is, however, a subjective process.
Courts have long determined that a manufacturer must warn if the product they manufacture is dangerous or harmful to users. If he is also aware of potential danger related to his product, he also has a responsibility towards consumers. If a safety product they also must clearly state what the reasonable expectation of protection is and what things the product will not protect against. Another scenario where courts have determined manufacturers may be held liable is if the danger is not apparent or rather too obvious for the consumer, such as a motorcycle helmet to any reasonable man.
The duty to adequately warn consumers of any dangers related to their products has been quite effective in ensuring that manufacturers maintain and upkeep high safety standards. There must be a proper balance between the safety of the product and utility. If not then we sacrifice utility by making an overly safe product with much reduce functionality, increased weight, decreased comfort, and so on.
Product Liability Lawsuits
Such lawsuits must be taken very seriously, especially in the US. They have the potential to bankrupt your business or, at the very least, tie you up in court in endless lawsuits. There are basically three categories of liability cases, but the one we are concerned with is ‘failure to warn.’ The legal premise of such cases is that if the company cannot make an ideal product that is devoid of risk, then the least they should do is disclose these risks to the consumer to make an informed decision.
Ideally, a product should be as safe as is reasonably possible and should not be associated with any high or inherent risks due to its manufacture or design. However, this is not practically possible to build 100% safe helmets, and courts have ruled to this effect. In some cases, consumers must accept that the products come with some inherent danger, though the product must put sufficient warning in their labels, tags, and owner’s manuals. This type of lawsuit is also likely to succeed if the wording is not precise or written in language that a reasonable man could not understand. To reduce liability, always ensure that the wording in your liability label is clear and detailed.
Why Warnings should be put on Helmets
Another critical aspect of warning indicators is that manufacturers are required to warn against any misuse of their product that is reasonably foreseeable. This, however, does not mean that companies have the duty and obligation to slap a warning indicator on every product. We all know that knives cut or that guns shoot. You do not have to learn this through a warning or owner’s manual. If the inherent danger is too obvious, then a warning is also deemed to be unnecessary.
The use of helmets in contact sports has recently come to the fore. Their effectiveness, or lack thereof, in sports like American football, is increasingly coming under scrutiny. However, it does not escape our attention that the warnings are usually clear and written in concise and straightforward terms.
They acknowledge the risks involved in the sport. Users are typically made aware of the dangers they stand in such contact sports. There are indeed inherent risks in sports like football, baseball, and biking that even a helmet cannot protect against. All helmet manufacturers have the legal obligation and ethical duty to warn their users of the risks involved.
Recent Helmet-related Lawsuits
In recent years, the NFL has faced mounting legal pressure because of the supposed long-term effects of the game on the athletes` health. Manufacturers of helmets and other protective sports equipment have not been spared either, with legal battles being an increasingly common occurrence. Therefore, the need for a well worded and clear liability label cannot be taken lightly. The labels-and the owner’s manual -are typically drafted by attorneys who have specific experience in this area of law and who need to protect their owners from legal liability concerning their use.
The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment is the body concerned with setting the standards for these liability user warnings. A standard warning indicator on any helmet should point out that no helmet can guarantee protection against head or neck trauma. Riddell, the country’s largest sports helmet manufacturer, has been at the center of two significant lawsuits.
In the more recent one that pitted a Colorado man against the company, a judge ruled that the company was obligated to inform users that they faced potential head trauma even with their helmets in place. Just as is the case for many other consumer products out there, the wording on helmets is meant to warn users of the potential dangers involved and the next step of action should they get into an accident.
How to Make a Good Warning Label
Below are a few tips and pointers if you wish to make sound, legally acceptable warning alerts.
1. The label should contain precise information as to the risk involved.
If you are a manufacturer of motorcycle helmets, then the label should be directed to all the potential risks that the motorcyclist should reasonably anticipate. The language should be quite detailed and vivid such that a reasonable person would have no trouble understanding it. For the warning indicator to stand up in court, it should detail habits or actions that are likely to precipitate the risk. This will warn the consumer against acting in a risky manner.
2. The label should be vivid and clearly visible.
Of course, the warning was meant to be seen and not just as a way of deflecting a potential lawsuit. It is intended to be seen by the consumer. Therefore, the warning label should be put in a prominent part of the product, where a consumer would have no trouble finding it. Also, the font size of the user warning should be large enough to read easily. The language should be straightforward and easy to comprehend. If your product is consumed in a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic area, then you should ensure that the warning statement is written in the region’s main languages.
That said, it is essential to note that a lawsuit can still be brought against you even if your product has the relevant warning labels. Many facts may occasion this, and it is up to a judge or jury to decide if the particular circumstances warrant a product liability suit. However, what is undeniable is that preventive measures like warning go a long way in ensuring your product’s integrity and further protecting you from litigation.
Michael Parrotte – importer of AGV Helmets 1977 to 2000, consulting work for KBC & Sparx Helmets, Vemar Helmets, Marushin Helmets, and Suomy Helmets 2001-2017