Product manufacturers must ensure the products they sell to consumers do not pose any danger through reasonable, expected use of those products. They must guarantee that a product will perform safely when used in a foreseeably reasonable way. Some manufacturers try to avoid liability for injuries and other damages their products cause by including disclaimers in their warranty information, but these disclaimers rarely hold up in court. In many cases, they function like a smokescreen that makes the injured customer believe that he or she cannot file a lawsuit due to the disclaimer.
The reality is that customers do not trade their warranty rights in exchange for use of the product. If you enter into a written contract, then an included disclaimer would be valid because it is part of the agreement you made. Product manufacturers must abide by the product manufacturing laws that dictate “implied” warranties, or the implicit expectations a customer should have when purchasing a product. For example, the “implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose” suggests that when a customer purchases a product advertised for a particular purpose, that product should be able to meet that purpose at no risk to the consumer.
Some products, like kitchen knives, lawnmowers, and some electric devices, are inherently dangerous through normal use. Manufacturers must still include instructions for use and all required safety warnings, but they are not responsible for the actions or mistakes of consumers. Customers effectively assume the risks associated with the use of such products. In some cases, this can limit an injured consumer’s legal options after an injury. However, if the manufacturer failed to include adequate instructions for use or sold a defective product, they would likely absorb liability for any resulting injuries.
For example, Dave buys a knife set online and the first time he uses one, the handle shatters and punctures his hand, resulting in a trip to the emergency room for a wound requiring stitches. In this case, the product was inherently dangerous but had a defect that caused injury through intended use, so Dave has grounds for legal action against the manufacturer for selling a defective product. If Dave simply slipped and cut himself while chopping vegetables, he assumed the risk of cutting himself by using an inherently dangerous tool in a foreseeably reasonable manner, and the injury resulted from his own negligence. He would not have grounds for a lawsuit in this case.
Consumers cannot take legal action for an injury caused by a product if they did not use the product as intended. For example, attempting to trim your beard with an electric carving knife is not an intended use of the product, and the manufacturer would not be liable for any injuries resulting from such use.
Some manufacturers include general disclaimers that appear to release them from all liability for damages resulting from the use of their products, but these are essentially smokescreens as well. A company cannot simply avoid liability for the damages their products cause by including general disclaimers with their products. If they could, there would be very little incentive for manufacturers to ensure their products were safe and effective.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries or other damages from a consumer product you believe to be defective, an experienced West Virginia product liability lawyer can provide insight as to your options for legal recourse. This will likely include a thorough examination of the product, included directions for use, and the manufacturer’s safety warnings and warranty information. If there is any doubt about your ability to take legal action, your attorney can help clarify your situation and give you an idea of the types of compensation you might expect from a lawsuit.