Legal Memorandum: Products Liability Claims for Failure to Warn

Issue: Under Massachusetts law, what are the essential elements of a products liability claim for failure to warn?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Products liability claim; Essential elements; Failure to warn
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts
Cited Cases: 525 N.E.2d 1305; 787 F.2d 726; 36 Mass. App. Ct. 935; 630 N.E.2d 291; 384 N.E.2d 1188; 691 N.E.2d 223
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 01/01/2000

The failure to warn of hazards associated with the foreseeable use of a product constitutes negligence if such failure proximately causes the plaintiff’s injuries.  Laaperi v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 787 F.2d 726, 729 (1st Cir. 1986).  The duty to warn applies to the manufacturer, and to a seller in the position of a manufacturer.  Laaperi, 787 F.2d at 726, 729.

Failure-to-warn liability does not attach, however, when the danger presented is obvious, or when the plaintiff appreciated the danger substantially to the same extent as he or she would have had a warning been provided.  Carey v. Lynn Ladder & Scaffolding Co., 427 Mass. 1003, 1003, 691 N.E.2d 223, 224 (1998); Morrell v. Precise Eng’g, Inc., 36 Mass. App. Ct. 935, 936, 630 N.E.2d 291, 293 (1994).  In other words, there is no duty to warn when the danger is obvious, because in such cases a warning would not reduce the likelihood of injury.  As the Laaperi court explained,

[w]here the risks of the  product are discernible by casual inspection, such as the danger that a knife can cut, or a stove burn, the consumer is in just as good a position as the manufacturer to gauge the dangers associated with the product, and nothing is gained by shifting to the manufacturer the duty to warn.  Thus, a manufacturer is not required to warn that placing one’s hand into the […]


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