Warnings and Labels Case Study
Case Synopsis: A mother purchased a tub of Plaster of Paris at an arts-and-crafts store for a project with her daughter. The project involved making a cast of the daughter’s hand. After mixing the Plaster of Paris, the mother told the daughter to insert her right hand. The plaster hardened, entrapping the daughter’s hand, during which time the daughter complained of a burning sensation in that hand. After various failed attempts to free the daughter’s hand, the mother did so by breaking the plaster with a hammer. By then, the daughter had incurred burns to the hand so severe that surgery and partial amputation of fingers resulted. The mother sued the manufacturer alleging that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous due to failure-to-warn.
Expert Analysis: A duty to warn manifests when a product embodies a hazard, meaning that the product has the potential to inflict harm. To be effective, a warning should conform to well-established guidelines as to content and format. The warnings, prominently displayed in capitals on the label, included statements directly relevant to the incident, namely: Avoid contact with skin and eyes; when mixed with water, this material hardens and then slowly becomes hot; do not attempt to make a cast enclosing any part of the body; and, failure to follow these instructions may cause burns. The Plaster of Paris was not defective, nor was it unreasonably dangerous, and did carry adequate warnings. The mother admitted in her deposition that she had read the warnings in the store and again at home; nonetheless, she claimed that she did not voluntarily assume risk because she was not left with an appreciation for the extent of the risk. In support of her claims, her lawyer argued that there were differences in wording between the warnings on the label and those on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
Expert analysis revealed that the warnings on the label were not ambiguous; and, that the mother was not claiming that she could not interpret their meanings; rather, she chose not to comply. Such was not the fault of the warnings since warnings can’t force compliance. Expert analysis further stated that a label warning and a MSDS warning were directed to separate readers (the consumers of the product and the employees of the product manufacturer, respectively). It was further opined that, in this case, the differences in wording between the two warnings were neither substantive nor causal to the incident.
Result: Case Settled