California "Warning Defects" (Failure to Warn) Laws

California products liability laws impose 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 damagesunder 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 discuss, below:

1. The elements of a claim for a defective warning

To prevail on a California failure to warn claim, the plaintiff must prove that:

  1. The defendant manufactured, distributed or sold a product;
  2. The product had potential risks that were known or knowable by the defendant;
  3. Such risks presented a substantial danger when the product was used or misused in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way;
  4. Ordinary consumers would not have recognized the potential risks;
  5. The defendant failed to adequately warn consumers of the potential risks; and;
  6. As a result of the lack of instructions or warnings, the plaintiff was harmed.2

2. What does it mean to use a product in a “reasonably foreseeable” way?

California law requires manufacturers and sellers of products to consider how ordinary consumers are likely to use or misuse a product and to 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

3. What damages are recoverable in a California defective warning case?

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.

4.  Can a plaintiff recover punitive damages for a warning defect in California?

Yes, but only if the harm resulted from the defendant's gross negligence or recklessness or was caused intentionally.

5. How long does someone have to sue for a failure to warn?

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 discover 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 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.

Injured by a warning defect in California? Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know was injured due to inadequate product warnings in California, we invite you to contact our California product liability lawyers for a free consultation.

Call us at (855) LAWFIRM or fill out the form on this page to speak to a lawyer about your case.

We may also be able to help if you were injured by a dangerous product in Nevada.


Legal references:

  1. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1205
  2. Same. See also Anderson v. Owens- Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1991) 53 Cal.3d 987.
  3. CACI 1245; Campbell v. Southern Pacific Co. (1978) 22 Cal.3d 51.
  4. CACI 1207A.
  5. California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1.
  6. CACI 455.

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