Quick, pick up a can of hair spray in your bathroom cabinet. Or, pull that aluminum ladder out of your garage. What you will quickly note is that these items have written, explicit warnings – in the case of the ladder, probably many warnings.
Shockingly, this same abundance of warnings often is absent from the workplace. Large industrial machines capable of causing much greater injuries than hair spray often are completely devoid of warnings.
Manufacturers of such industrial equipment have a duty to design it in such a way that it is not unreasonably dangerous. If there are hazards in a machine that cannot be designed out of it without destroying its utility, the manufacturer has a duty to give clear, effective warnings. Many manufacturers blindly assume about industrial workers, “everyone knows the hazard.” Often, hazards that are well known by a manufacturer may be much less appreciated by an hourly worker charged with operating a dangerous piece of equipment.
Further, even if a worker knows of a danger, he or she may forget about it in the course of a long, stressful, physically demanding workday. Because of this, warnings – clearly posted on the machine and in any associated manuals – are essential. This is also good business: a well-informed, safe workforce makes for more productive industry.
A manufacturer of a piece of equipment that is dangerous because it lacks proper warnings is strictly liable in Missouri if a person is injured. This means that a worker does not have to prove that the manufacturer did something negligent or careless. It is the dangerous nature of the product itself that renders the manufacturer liable. Furthermore, anyone in the distribution chain may be liable, including wholesalers and retailers. This is an important aspect of Missouri law, as the manufacturer is often an overseas corporation that is hard to sue, or a company that has been sold or dissolved years before the worker is injured.
Strict liability for inadequate warnings has been an important part of Missouri law for decades. In many ways, the law helps level the playing field, so that an hourly worker with horrible injuries can challenge a large international manufacturer in a court of law. Society is well-served by requiring manufacturers that earn a profit from a product to pay for injuries caused by the product’s dangers.