When the manufacturer of a product becomes aware of a hazard related to the use of that product that manufacturer has a legal duty to minimize that hazard. In this regard a universally applied principal is the “safety hierarchy.” In its simplest form the safety hierarchy has three components: 1) design the product to eliminate the hazard; 2) design a guard to protect the user from the hazard, and 3) warn the user against the hazard. As an example manufactures of all terrain vehicles (ATVs) recognize a hazard related to the stability of the vehicle. A relatively high center of gravity can result in a loss of stability which can lead to a rollover event, which can result in serious injury or death. Therefore, manufacturers of ATVs have a duty to design out the tendency of the vehicle to be unstable. This can be done by lowering the center of gravity. If this is impossible or unfeasible, i.e., if such a change in design would render the ATV unfit for its intended purpose, then the manufacturer has a duty to guard against this hazard. This can be done by designing an effective “Roll Over Protection System.” (ROPS) Properly designed roll bars and seat belts can be an effective protection against this rollover hazard. Finally, if the manufacturer perceives that a ROPS would not completely eliminate the rollover hazard it would have a duty to warn against the hazard. Any user of an ATV is familiar with the myriad warnings posted on an ATV.
Most manufacturers of consumer products prefer warnings to design changes because warnings are less expensive. The problem with favoring warnings over the elimination of or guarding against hazards by design changes is that human beings can be prone to ignore warnings. Every product is intended to assist its user in accomplishing certain specific tasks. Consumers are more concerned with accomplishing those tasks than being concerned with safety. They may not perceive the risk or they may assume that the warnings have been placed on the product to simply protect the manufacturer from liability. It is universally agreed that warnings are inferior to design changes to eliminate or guard against hazards. Manufacturers, therefore, have a legal duty to evaluate a product for appropriate design changes that can accomplish this.
Another reason that manufacturers of products prefer warnings to designs that eliminate or guard against hazards is reliance on warnings shifts the blame for accidents to the consumer. This ignores the realities of human nature. It is entirely forseeable to manufacturers of consumer products that people will not recognize the hazard and will ignore warnings. That is why the safety hierarchy places the manufacturer’s primary responsibility at design to eliminate and then to guard against known hazards. Failure to adhere to the safety hierarchy endangers people and when that happens companies who make products for consumer use should be held legally liable.
The personal injury attorneys at Jinks, Crow and Dickson have decades of experience in prosecuting lawsuits to hold manufacturers of dangerous products accountable. Because of this extensive experience we understand that the basic principles of safety engineering apply to the design and manufacture of all products. We have pursued lawsuits involving lawnmowers, table saws, gas stoves, all terrain vehicles, trucks, automobiles and many other products.