California product liability law imposes a duty of care on manufacturers, distributors and sellers of products to provide adequate instructions and warnings. Someone who is injured as a result of a “warning defect” can recover compensatory damages under California’s strict liability law – even if the manufacturer, distributor or seller was not negligent.1
Damages for which the manufacturer, distributor or seller may be held liable can include (without limitation):
To help you better understand California’s “warning defects” product liability laws, our California personal injury lawyers will discuss:
- 1. The elements of a claim for a defective warning
- 2. What does it mean to use a product in a “reasonably foreseeable” way?
- 3. What damages are recoverable in a California defective warning case?
- 4. Can a plaintiff recover punitive damages for a warning defect in California?
- 5. How long does someone have to sue for a failure to warn?
To prevail on a California failure to warn claim, the plaintiff must prove that:
- The defendant manufactured, distributed or sold a product;
- The product had potential risks that were known or knowable by the defendant;
- Such risks presented a substantial danger when the product was used or misused in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way;
- Ordinary consumers would not have recognized the potential risks;
- The defendant failed to adequately warn consumers of the potential risks; and;
- As a result of the lack of instructions or warnings, the plaintiff was harmed.2
California law requires manufacturers and sellers of products to
- consider how ordinary consumers are likely to use or misuse a product and
- take reasonable steps to warn against misuse.
If warnings are adequate, the plaintiff’s misuse of a product is a complete defense to strict products liability.3
However, if the plaintiff’s misuse or modification of the product contributed to his/her injuries, but was not the sole cause, the plaintiff may still be able to recover a portion of his or her damages under California’s comparative fault law.4
Compensatory damages for failure to warn in California can include, but are not limited to:
- Medical bills,
- Lost wages,
- Lost earning capacity,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Property damage.
California’s statute of limitations for defective warnings is generally two years from the date on which the plaintiff was injured.5 A plaintiff who fails to file a lawsuit within this “limitations period” loses the right to sue.
However, if the injury was not discovered until later a lawsuit can be commenced for up to one year after discovery of the injury if:
- The plaintiff did not know of facts that would have caused a reasonable person to suspect that he or she had suffered harm due to an inadequate product warning, or
- A reasonable and diligent investigation would not have disclosed that a warning defect contributed to the plaintiff’s harm.6
The two-year period can also be extended if the plaintiff was under 18 or legally incompetent at the time of the injury or if the defendant was out-of-state.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1205.
- Same. See also Anderson v. Owens- Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1991) 53 Cal.3d 987.
- CACI 1245; Campbell v. Southern Pacific Co. (1978) 22 Cal.3d 51.
- CACI 1207A.
- California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1.
- CACI 455.