Dateline: June, 2008, Issue 1

How do warnings on products affect jurors' allocation of responsibility for injuries?

Warnings on products can affect jurors' allocation of responsibility for injuries incurred while using those products.

First, the mere presence of a warning affects the allocation of responsibility. Laughery and colleagues (1998) had jurors read descriptions of accident scenarios in which injuries occurred during the use of products, and then allocate responsibility to the manufacturer, retailer or consumer user. More responsibility is assigned to the consumer, and less to the manufacturer, when products are accompanied by a warning, as compared to no warning.

Second, jurors do not distinguish a good warning from a poor warning unless they can directly compare the two types of warnings with each other at trial (Laughery & colleagues, 1998; Wogalter & colleagues, 1998). Good warnings use pictures, contain color, and contain explicit information about the hazard, consequences and instructions. Poor warnings are verbal, black and white, and are non-explicit or vague (Laughery & Wogalter, 1997). If jurors have an opportunity to compare good and poor warnings for a product before allocating responsibility and the ultimate warning on a product is good, then jurors allocate more responsibility to the consumer and less to the manufacturer for product-related injuries (Laughery & colleagues, 1998). Manufacturers are allocated more responsibility for product-related injuries when a poor warning is present and a human factors expert testifies that a better warning could have been used (Wogalter et al., 1998).

Consumer users are allocated more responsibility for injuries incurred while using products if the products have warnings and if those warnings are shown through a comparative process at trial to be good warnings.

Source Laughery, K. R., Laughery, B. R., Lovvoll, D. R., & Wogalter, M. S. (1998). Effects of warnings on responsibility allocation. Psychology & Marketing, 15, pp. 657-706.

Source Laughery, K. R., & Wogalter, M. S. (1997). Warnings and risk perception. In G. Salvendy (Ed.), Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics (2nd ed., pp. 1174-1197). New York: Wiley.

Source Wogalter, M. S., Brantley, K. A., Laughery, K. R., & Lovvoll, D. R. (1998). Effects of warning quality and expert testimony on allocation of responsibility of consumer product accidents. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society 42nd Annual Meeting (pp. 665-669). Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.