Insufficient Warnings -- A Recent Court Ruling

Subject: Insufficient Warnings -- A Recent Court Ruling
From: GEORGE Grider 901/360-4002 <ggrider -at- fedex -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 09:55:57 -0500


Techwrl-ers,

An $8 million judgement was recently awarded two carpet installers in
Ohio whose job literally blew up in their faces.

Yes, there was a warning label. But it was deemed to be improperly
worded.

Following the ruling, lawyers for Para-Chem company, manufacturer of the
carpet adhesive, said "I guess it's too much to expect that people will
read a label."

But the jury decided the label's wording wasn't strong enough. One
juror, a retired Firestone worker, said the adhesvie's labeling was the
primary reason he supported the carpet installers. "You couldn't read
[the label] anyway," he said.

The judge instructed the jury that the company was liable for damage
unless _all hidden hazards_ of the 3.5 gallon container of M280 adhesive
were revealed in its label. The word "explosive" was not on the warning
label. Apparently, the word had appeared in earlier labels, but was
deleted.

The warning label read "Do not use indoors because of flammability."
This label was placed on the side of the can. The front was emblazen
with the product name.

Writers don't have the last word in how the label is worded. Nor can we
specify where the label is to appear and in what size type. But we can
make our opinions known about the wording. Strong words like "explosion"
make the marketeers and owners flinch. This tends to put the spotlight
on the lowly tech writer. Job security takes a hit. But if writers
aren't willing or able to forthrightly recommend strongly worded
warnings, what good are we?

Had the label read "If used indoors, the material could explode," jury
members probably would have voted against liability. Possibly the two
installers would have heeded the warning, and thus not been severely
burned and scarred for life. The lesson for me: If the boss says "no, we
want a more benign word such as flammable," make your opinion known in
writing. We are the scribes. We can use the Para-Chem suit as a "money
talks" example: $8 million because no one listened to the tech writer.
(Assuming they had a tech writer.) Copies of protesting emails in your
personal files may be a good thing to have when things like this happen.

This article appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal, July 10, 2002. See
http://www.ohio.com/mld/ohio/archives/ . Enter keyword "Para-Chem" in
archive search field. Costs $2.95 to view entire article.


George Grider





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