Legal Memorandum: Duty to Warn Defense in Product Liability Claims

Issue: Under California law, what is the duty to warn and open-and-obvious-danger defense in product liability claims?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Product liability cases; Duty to warn
Jurisdiction: California
Cited Cases: 148 Cal. App. 3d 444; 810 P.2d 549; 196 Cal. Rptr. 52; 86 Cal. App. 3d 768; 281 Cal. Rptr. 528
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 04/01/2001

              Although there are apparently no California aquatic-injury products-liability cases based on a failure-to-warn theory, the California Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that addresses for the first time certain aspects of the manufacturer’s general duty to warn.  In Anderson v. Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp., 53 Cal. 3d 987, 810 P.2d 549, 281 Cal. Rptr. 528 (1991), the court expressly adopted the view that the manufacturer’s actual or constructive knowledge of a potential risk or danger is required before strict liability for failure to warn will be imposed.  281 Cal. Rptr. at 536:

The rules of strict liability require a plaintiff to prove only that the defendant did not adequately warn of a particular risk that was known or knowable in light of the generally recognized and prevailing best scientific and medical knowledge available at the time of manufacture and distribution.


Id. at 537.  See also Burke v. Almaden Vineyards, Inc., 86 Cal. App. 3d 768, 772, 150 Cal. Rptr. 419, 421 (1st Dist. 1978) ("Where a manufacturer or supplier of a product is or should have been aware that a product is unreasonably dangerous absent a warning […]

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