US product liability law is literally a mine field. In many cases the products sold by domestic as well as foreign manufacturers are engineering marvels, state-of-the-art machines or otherwise high quality items that are well thought out, perfectly manufactured and very useful.
The problem is that there is basically nothing you can buy today that does not require some kind of manual or set of detailed instructions. These instructions are, however, generally a bothersome afterthought, something management does not want to spend money on and marketing would rather omit all together. Consequently the vast majority of manuals are very poorly written. They are very dangerous time bombs ready to explode at any day.
As a result of the lack of attention given and the insufficient funding for this so vital and important part of any product, most manuals are hard to read, often incomprehensible, far from being complete and accurate and so they become the Achilles heel of the product. Most of the time it is overlooked that a manual is an integral part of a product and requires the same attention and quality control as the design and manufacturing processes.
In most product liability law suits plaintiffs allege that there were wrong or missing warnings or simply “failure to warn.” And, they do quite justifiably so. I have never seen a manual for products sold in the US where the allegation of wrong or missing warnings or “failure to warn” would not have been justified.
The requirements for good manuals are very complex and things are not getting any better because the education level of the population is falling rather than rising.
Therefore people, whether the worker in a factory who has to change bearings on a machine or the consumer who has bought a product at Home Depot or Wal-Mart need more and simpler instructions today more than ever before.
And, they need proper warnings in accordance with the ANSI Z535.6 standard (unless a law, standard or regulation requires something different).
There is a lot of work for manufacturers with regard to their manuals but also a lot they can actually do to reduce their product liability exposure. They have to provide better manuals. This means clearer instructions, better illustrations and more comprehensive well designed and formulated safety messages. Expert advice in this field is therefore as much needed as it will be in case of a product liability law suit.
Competent advice and guidance early on can, however, reduce the risk of litigation substantially because in general manuals are so bad that with relatively little effort, professional guidance and advice they can be dramatically improved. There is a lot of bang for the buck to be had.
Good advice is, however, relatively hard to come by because it is multidisciplinary and it involves legal, technical as well as linguistic aspects. There are few people who are fit in all three fields. I am.
My manta when reading or evaluating a manual always is: “Tell me what I need to know in a fashion that a simple man can understand.”