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Better Safe . . .

Does your product need a warning label? Don't get burned--consider all the potential dangers.

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This story appears in the July 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We've all had a good laugh over product warnings. "Silica gel--do not eat." "Coffee may be hot." "Remove child before folding stroller." But if you get sued because someone was injured by your product, the issue of warning labels is no laughing matter. A consumer injured while using a product can not only sue the manufacturer, but also the supplier, dealer, distributor or rental yard. The consumer can argue the product design was defective, that there was a manufacturing defect, or that someone should have warned people they could get hurt.

"The duty to warn requires that the consumer receive notice of potential dangers associated with the product," says Columbus, Ohio, attorney Joseph Gerling of Lane, Alton & Horst , who specializes in insurance defense. "This includes potential consequences associated with foreseeable misuses." Fortunately, judges and juries recognize that people do stupid things, and no company can be expected to foresee them all. Gerling describes a case in which a man used a water meter to measure the flow of sulfuric acid. Someone had previously used the meter for water, some of which remained in the meter, which then interacted with the acid and blew up in the man's face. He sued, claiming there should have been a warning not to use it for acid. "We argued that it says 'water meter' in large letters right on the product," Gerling says. The judge dismissed the case.

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