What Does “Failure to Warn” Mean?

by | May 22, 2024 | Defective Children's Product, Defective Drugs, Defective Product, Defective Toys, Product Liability

In the realm of product liability law, the term “failure to warn” holds significant weight. It refers to a manufacturer’s or seller’s legal obligation to inform consumers about the potential risks and dangers associated with using a product. When a company neglects this duty, and a consumer is harmed as a result, the company can be held liable for failure to warn. This concept is crucial in ensuring that consumers are adequately informed about the products they use and can take necessary precautions to avoid injury.

As much as we want to trust product manufacturers, the reality is that consumers are harmed by dangerous or defective products on an almost daily basis. At Kherkher Garcia, we help consumers who have been harmed by failure to warn understand and protect their legal rights. Below, we provide information for consumers about how failure to warn claims work, and why it is so important to work with a skilled product liability lawyer.

Understanding the Duty to Warn

The duty to warn is an integral part of a manufacturer’s responsibility. It stems from the principle that manufacturers are in the best position to understand the risks associated with their products. This duty includes providing clear, concise, and conspicuous warnings that adequately inform users of potential dangers. These warnings should be accessible and understandable to the average consumer, ensuring they can make informed decisions about product use.

Warnings can take various forms, including labels, instruction manuals, and safety guides. They must cover not only obvious risks but also those that may not be immediately apparent to an average user. For example, a power tool should come with warnings about the risk of electric shock, even if it seems evident that an electrical appliance could pose such a danger.

Legal Basis for Failure to Warn

The legal framework surrounding failure to warn claims is rooted in both tort and product liability law. Courts typically evaluate these claims based on several factors:

  • Knowledge of Risk: The manufacturer knew or should have known about the risk.
  • Foreseeability: The risk was foreseeable to the manufacturer at the time of production.
  • Adequacy of Warning: The warning provided was insufficient to inform users of the risk.

A manufacturer may argue that the risk was so apparent that no warning was necessary, or that the user did not heed the warning provided. However, these defenses often hinge on the specifics of the case and the perceived reasonableness of the warning given.

Examples of Failure to Warn

Failure to warn lawsuits can emerge from a variety of products or circumstances. Generally, these lawsuits tend to stem from injuries or deaths related to:


One of the most prominent areas for failure to warn claims involves pharmaceuticals. Drug manufacturers must provide detailed information about potential side effects and interactions. If a company fails to disclose a serious side effect, and a patient suffers harm as a result, the company can be held liable. For instance, in cases where antidepressants have led to increased suicidal tendencies in certain age groups, failure to provide adequate warnings has led to significant litigation.

Consumer Products

Another common area involves everyday consumer products. For example, a manufacturer of a household cleaner must warn users about the potential hazards of inhaling fumes or skin contact. If a user suffers chemical burns because the product lacked adequate warnings, the manufacturer can be held accountable.

Industrial Equipment

In the realm of industrial machinery, failure to warn can have catastrophic consequences. Machines that pose risks of amputation or other serious injuries must come with explicit warnings and instructions. Employers and workers rely on these warnings to maintain a safe working environment.

Notable Failure to Warn Lawsuits

Some of the most notable examples of failure to warn lawsuits in recent years include:

  • Talcum Powder and Cancer: Thousands of women have sued Johnson & Johnson alleging that the company failed to warn consumers that talcum powder, when used for feminine hygiene, could increase the risk of ovarian cancer. In 2018, a jury in Missouri awarded $2.1 billion to a woman who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder for decades.
  • Roundup Weedkiller and Cancer: Thousands of people have filed lawsuits against Monsanto, the maker of Roundup weedkiller, alleging that exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. Plaintiffs allege that Monsanto knew or should have known about the potential risks of Roundup but failed to warn consumers.
  • Big Tobacco: Perhaps the most famous example of a failure to warn lawsuit is the decades-long legal battle against major tobacco companies. For many years, tobacco companies denied that cigarettes were addictive and caused cancer, despite mounting scientific evidence to the contrary. The lawsuits resulted in a $246 billion settlement in 1998 with 46 states.
  • McDonald’s Hot Coffee: This case, often inaccurately portrayed in the media, involved a woman who suffered severe burns after spilling hot coffee from a McDonald’s cup. The lawsuit alleged that McDonald’s coffee was unreasonably dangerous because the cup did not have a proper warning about the risk of burns. The jury awarded the plaintiff $640,000, but most of the award was punitive damages which were later reduced.

Consequences of Failure to Warn

When a manufacturer fails to provide adequate warnings, the consequences can be severe, both for the consumer and the company. Consumers may suffer physical harm, emotional distress, or financial loss due to medical expenses and lost wages. For companies, failure to warn claims can lead to costly litigation, substantial financial penalties, and reputational damage.

Preventing Failure to Warn Injuries

Manufacturers can take several steps to ensure their products are safe and effective:

  • Comprehensive Risk Assessment: Conduct thorough assessments to identify all potential risks associated with the product.
  • Clear and Detailed Warnings: Ensure warnings are clear, detailed, and prominently displayed. Use symbols and diagrams to enhance understanding.
  • Regular Review and Update: Regularly review and update warnings as new information about risks becomes available.
  • User Feedback: Solicit and review user feedback to identify any previously unrecognized risks.
  • Compliance with Standards: Adhere to industry standards and regulatory requirements for product labeling and warnings.

Manufacturers have a legal and ethical obligation to provide clear warnings to prevent harm and ensure consumer safety. By understanding and adhering to this duty, companies can protect their customers and themselves from the repercussions of inadequate warnings. The ongoing vigilance in assessing risks and updating warnings is essential in fostering a safe and informed consumer environment.

Should I Contact a Lawyer with Failure to Warn Concerns?

If you believe you have been harmed by a product due to inadequate warnings or instructions, you might be wondering whether you should contact a lawyer. The answer is generally yes, especially if the injury is significant or has led to substantial medical bills, lost wages, or other financial burdens. Here’s a detailed look at why contacting a lawyer with failure to warn concerns can be beneficial.

Understanding the Legal Implications

Failure to warn is a specific type of product liability claim. It arises when a manufacturer or seller fails to provide adequate warnings or instructions about the risks associated with a product. To successfully pursue a failure to warn claim, you must prove several elements, including that the manufacturer knew or should have known about the risk, the risk was not obvious to an ordinary user, and the lack of adequate warning caused your injury.

Navigating these legal requirements can be complex, which is why consulting with a lawyer experienced in product liability is crucial.

Benefits of Consulting a Lawyer

There are many benefits to consulting with a product liability lawyer if you have concerns about a dangerous or defective product, and/or failure to warn. Some of the many benefits of working with a lawyer include:

  • Expert Evaluation of Your Case: A lawyer can evaluate the specifics of your situation to determine if you have a viable failure to warn claim. They will assess the product, the warnings provided, and the nature of your injury to build a strong case.
  • Understanding Legal Standards: Different jurisdictions have varying standards for what constitutes an adequate warning. A lawyer familiar with local laws can provide insight into how your case might be viewed in your specific area.
  • Gathering Evidence: Building a failure to warn case requires substantial evidence, including medical records, the product itself, its packaging, and expert testimony. A lawyer can help gather and organize this evidence effectively.
  • Expert Witnesses: In many failure to warn cases, expert testimony is crucial. Lawyers have access to networks of experts who can testify about the risks of the product and the adequacy of the warnings provided.
  • Negotiation Skills: Often, product liability cases are settled out of court. A lawyer can negotiate on your behalf to reach a fair settlement that compensates you for your injuries, medical expenses, and other losses.
  • Litigation Experience: If your case goes to court, having a lawyer with trial experience is invaluable. They can present your case effectively, cross-examine witnesses, and argue on your behalf.

Steps to Take Before Contacting a Lawyer

Before reaching out to a lawyer, there are several steps you can take to strengthen your case:

  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of your injury, medical treatments, and any expenses incurred. Take photographs of your injuries and the product, including any warnings or instructions.
  • Preserve the Product: Do not alter or discard the product that caused your injury. It will be crucial evidence in your case.
  • Keep Packaging and Instructions: Retain all packaging, instructions, and warning labels that came with the product. This will help your lawyer assess the adequacy of the warnings.
  • Seek Medical Attention: Get medical treatment immediately and follow all prescribed treatments. Medical records will be essential in proving the extent of your injuries.
  • Avoid Public Statements: Be cautious about discussing your case on social media or with others. Public statements can be used against you in court.

If you believe you have been injured due to a product’s inadequate warnings or instructions, contacting a lawyer is a prudent step. An experienced product liability lawyer can evaluate your case, gather necessary evidence, negotiate with the manufacturer, and represent you in court if needed. Taking this step not only helps protect your rights but also promotes greater accountability among manufacturers, ensuring they prioritize consumer safety and transparency.

Free Failure to Warn Consultation

Product liability cases, including failure to warn claims, can be complex. At Kherkher Garcia, our product liability lawyers have more than 30 years of experience helping consumers. We have handled numerous cases involving dangerous, defective, or recalled products. We have the experience and resources that clients need to protect their rights and obtain compensation.

To find out how we can help you with your product liability questions and potential case, contact us for a free consultation. Get started by calling us at 713-333-1030, or submit our website contact form. We look forward to assisting you in your fight for justice.

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Jesus Garcia

Jesus Garcia

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Jesus Garcia. Jesus has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 20 years. He has won $150 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force of nature in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been seriously injured at work or on the road. Abogado Jesus Garcia is bilingual and passionate about being the voice in the courtroom for the spanish speaking community here in Houston, across the state of Texas, and throughout the Nation.

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