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What makes product warnings effective?

On behalf of Jacqueline A. Scott & Associates posted in products liability on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

By law, product manufacturers should clearly label their products if they pose any risk to Louisiana users without proper instructions included. An insufficient warning could provide the grounds for a lawsuit if the user is harmed while using the product. As Findlaw points out, though, there are no clear guidelines for how a product warning should be made. Whether a warning is insufficient is generally judged by efforts undertaken to make the warning as effective as it should be.

First, a warning should be clear and precise as to what it wants to communicate. Risks will vary depending on the product. A warning that simply says “be cautious” does not tell you much of anything. How should you be cautious? Conversely, if the warning label says “do not handle when wet,” then a clear message has been conveyed. You know not to handle the product when it or you are wet.

A warning should also be noticeable. A simple criteria is that the product owner should be able to easily discover the label. If the label is on the product, ideally it should be somewhere on the outside, although sometimes a label may be placed inside a product if, for instance, the product is opened up frequently during its regular use.

Additionally, how a warning label appears can make it more conspicuous. Many manufacturers will make a warning label with a red, yellow or bright orange background. Bright colors are very noticeable, especially if they are placed on a product with a darker color. If reds or oranges clash with the product, however, a manufacturer may opt for a white background. The lettering is usually black, which is easily readable against bright or white backgrounds.

However, the fact that not every American citizen or resident speaks English presents additional challenges for crafting warning labels. Manufacturers have attempted to compensate for this by printing warnings in different languages. Many warnings, for example, will be in both English and Spanish. Manufacturers may also print instruction manuals with accompanying warnings in multiple languages. In some cases, manufacturers will add diagrams and pictures that depict what the user should or should not do with the product.

This article is not intended as legal advice and is only written for the education of the reader on product warnings.

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