(219)736-9700 info@davidholublaw.com

Difference Between Warnings and Instructions

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

We’ve previously discussed warnings and instructions regarding product liability claims.

But I don’t know if we explained the difference between product warnings and instructions.

A warning is a message intended to reduce the risk of personal harm or property damage by inducing behavior or discouraging or prohibiting other behaviors.

On the other hand, an instruction will tell the consumer how to use a product effectively.

In other words, an instruction tells you how to use the product to get the most out of the product. A warning describes the dangers of improper use or how to guard against risks inherent in the product.

You might be thinking, why is this difference significant?

Well, suppose the product maker is intending to communicate a warning. In that case, the warning has to be displayed prominently to alert the user of a hazard. It must also convey the magnitude of the hazard.

Instructional material can be in smaller print and need not be prominently displayed.

But a warning must be prominent and distinct. If not, and a person is injured, the manufacturer can be in trouble for providing an ineffective warning.

If you pull out typical product materials, such as the papers that are supplied with a blow dryer, those materials should deal with both warnings and instructions.

A warning will be, “to avoid electric shock, which can cause death or severe personal injury, do not immerse the product in water.”

An instructional item might say, “for best results, do not over-tighten the screws that hold the handle in place.”

But what if the instructional material contains words of warning, but the warning words are not prominent and fail to draw attention to dangerous behaviors? You may have a solid claim against the product manufacturer in such a case.

Here’s an example, suppose you manufacture bunk beds. You include a ladder so a child can climb up to the top bunk. In the instructional papers that ship with the product, you tell the buyer to be sure to tighten the screws that hold the ladder in place. But you neglect to explain why.

And further, you neglect to describe how a poorly secured ladder could present a fall hazard that could result in death or severe injury. In such a case, the words of instruction are inadequate and fail to serve as a warning.

If someone is injured, and there is no adequate warning that a ladder not screwed tightly into place with the provided screws could result in a fall and severe injury or death, the seller could be open to liability if the ladder detaches from the upper bunk bed and results in injury.

So, warnings are essential, and instructions are important.

Warnings are far more critical, and hiding or burying a warning in the instructional section of an operational manual is inadequate.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”