Legal Memorandum: Duty to Warn Defense in a Product Liability Claim

Issue: Under Michigan law, what are the duty to warn and open-and-obvious-danger defenses in product liability claims?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Product liability cases; Duty to warn or care; Open-and-obvious-danger
Jurisdiction: Michigan
Cited Cases: 238 N.W.2d 362; 182 Mich. App. 285; 757 F. Supp. 819; 771 F. Supp. 856; 326 N.W.2d 372; 414 Mich. 413; 464 N.W.2d 710; 383 Mich. 158; 435 N.W.2d 480; 65 Mich. App. 662
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 04/01/2001

              In a products liability case the plaintiff’s prima facie case requires a showing that the defendant manufacturer owed the plaintiff a duty of care.  Raines v. Colt Indus., Inc., 757 F. Supp. 819, 823 (E.D. Mich. 1991).  The question of the existence of a duty is a legal one for the court to decide.  Horen, 426 N.W.2d at 796; Kirk v. Hanes Corp., 771 F. Supp. 856, 858 (E.D. Mich. 1991).  "Generally, a manufacturer has a duty to warn of known dangers inherent in a product or its contemplated use."  Glittenberg, 462 N.W.2d at 362 (Archer, J.).  In determining whether a duty to warn exists in a particular case the court must inquire into the factual questions of foreseeability and reasonableness:  "Were injuries such as plaintiff’s foreseeable, and, if so, was the frequency and magnitude of such injuries such that a reasonable manufacturer would have warned?"  Id. at 361 (Boyle, J.).

If a duty to warn is found to exist, "[a] manufacturer is subject to liability for failure to warn about a risk inherent in the way a product is designed that is related to the intended uses, as well as the reasonably foreseeable uses of the product."  Id. at 352 (Griffin, J.).  As explained more fully by Justice Griffin, where liability is based on the failure to warn,

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