Re: QUESTION: Legal liability for incorrect documentation

Subject: Re: QUESTION: Legal liability for incorrect documentation
From: Marc Brinker <mbrinker -at- PRECISIONCS -dot- COM>
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 1998 00:54:54 -0500

Dick Gaskill wrote:

> the Software License included in all my manuals specifies
> the exact legal liabilities of incorrect software specifications in the
> documentation . . .
> In addition, the Notice inside the front cover of the product manuals
> includes the following statement, written by the legal firm that
> represents us:
> ACCELGRAPHICS SHALL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ERRORS THAT MAY APPEAR IN
> THIS DOCUMENT AND SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF OR
> RELATED TO THIS DOCUMENT OR THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN IT, EVEN IF
> ACCELGRAPHICS HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
>

Despite what you include in your manuals, *you* can't specify what you'll be
liable for . . . the law covers that.

My wife has worked in liability insurance for a long time; she's fond of
reminding me that just because someone *states* that they're not liable for
something, doesn't mean that they aren't liable to some degree. That's for
the courts to decide, should it get that far!

Examples: the coat check at the restaurant with the sign that reads "not
responsible for lost or stolen articles." Also, the sign outside the
supermarket: "not responsible for damage to vehicles from shopping carts".
These are simple examples of statements that are designed to reduce the
possibility of someone thinking they have a case against the facility or
business.

Imagine this on a cereal box: "Great Big Cereal Company will in NO MANNER be
held liable in the event that glass shards are in this box and inadvertently
consumed". Imagine in a nuclear reactor operator's manual: "The XYZ Power
Company SHALL NOT be held responsible for errors in this manual and will in
NO MANNER be held liable for damages resulting from misinformation provided
by this manual." The warnings don't wash. Obtuse examples, perhaps, but I
hope you see my point.

Of course, the warnings do serve some purpose. If you *didn't* include them,
someone (an avaricious lawyer, perhaps) might try to argue that the omission
of a warning tacitly implied complete accuracy.

I think you need to be judicious in your use of warnings, including them
where appropriate. In my current work, we include warnings in our manuals
such as "not responsible for errors". But more importantly, we include
referrals to better sources: "Information in this manual may change - refer
to service letters for updated service information" and "refer to our
website for the most current information". Then we keep THAT information
current.

I'm not sure the limits of a writer's liability are at all clear . . . I
suspect a case may turn on their level of expertise and whether the writer
made "reasonable efforts" to provide current and accurate information. This
may not be enough for the company to stand on, however.

Marc Brinker
Precision Communication Services




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