One of the things importers (and especially people new to the game) often overlook is the importance of product labelling, especially in regards to consumer safety.

We’ve all seen product warning labels before- some venturing on the absurd in terms of their inherent “no sh** sherlockness”. Now while we can argue the merits of a Starbucks warning label warning that coffee is hot, regardless safety labels can be important for protecting consumers as well as protecting you from an expensive product liability claim that could potentially bankrupt your business and/or you.

I recently had a product liability lawyer review my obligations for a certain type of car rack I was considering importing. Below are some of the takeaways from the consultation. Keep in mind product liability advice is very specific to jurisdiction and product, but there’s some good general advice nonetheless.

  1. Products that are inherently dangerous and/or complex require a higher responsibility from the importer in terms of warning the consumer of any dangers. The dangerous part is fairly common sense. However, the complex part not so much. So for example, a step ladder is a fairly simple product that most everyone knows how to use.  Just because someone might use it as a skateboard ramp doesn’t mean that you have a duty to warn not to use it as a skateboard ramp. This would be considered abnormal use. An exercise treadmill on the other hand, where not everyone has knowledge of, would require more warning to consumers.
  2. If you know there is a specific foreseeable risk with your product you must warn of it. Any product can be misused and it doesn’t mean you need to come up with every conceivable way someone could be an idiot. However, known common misuses you must warn against. Listerine is a popular example. The makers of Listerine know people have ingested it to get drunk and therefore they warn against not doing so.

So what can and should you do when it comes to product warning labels for products you import?

  1. Assume your suppliers will include no warnings.
  2. Review your competitors’ warning labels and liberally “borrow” from them. This is also important because if all of your competitors are warning against drinking mouthwash to get drunk, it makes it tougher to argue that you didn’t know consumers were doing this.
  3. Ensure product warnings are clear to consumers. Putting warnings on your website probably doesn’t suffice. Putting them on product packaging and instructions probably does, and more so if the warnings are actually on the product.
  4. Know your product. The more you know a product the more you can predict and foresee potential dangers.