In this Emerging Issues commentary, Attorney Tracy D. Fitzsimmons discusses the issue of providing product warnings in different languages. Consumers or workers that can't speak English aren't able to comprehend English-only product warnings. Ms. Fitzsimmons examines relevant statutes and case law about the duty to warn.
"Burgeoning immigration has resulted in unprecedented numbers of non-English-speaking consumers and workers residing in the United States. Keeping these residents safe from toxins and other dangerous products at home and at work presents new challenges. The non-English-speaking consumer or worker is likely unable to comprehend a product warning printed only in English. The duty to protect non-English speakers from dangerous products may already include the duty to warn in their native language."
"The duty to warn is set forth in Section 2(c) of the Restatement of the Law Third, Torts: Products Liability, which states that a product 'is defective because of inadequate instruction or warnings when the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the provision of reasonable instructions or warnings by the seller and the omission of the instructions or warnings renders the product not reasonably safe.'"
"Counsel advising a client should consider alternatives to language warnings in situations in which a universally-recognized drawing or symbol can easily be used. Interestingly, as early as 1965, at least one court was willing to impose liability upon a manufacturer for labeling its toxic product in English only. The case, Hubbard-Hall Chemical Co. v. Silverman, was one of the first cases to address the need for multilingual warnings."
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Tracy Fitzsimmons has practiced law for almost 10 years in the area of civil litigation, with an emphasis in product liability. She completed her undergraduate studies in Law and Society and in Spanish at Purdue University and earned her J.D. from Villanova University School of Law. While at Villanova, she won the 40th annual Anthony Reimel Moot Court competition.