Do Warnings Preclude Lawsuits When Children are Injured By Defective Toys?

The Consumer Product Safety Consumer Act (CPSCA) sets safety standards for toys designed for children under the age of 14, with oversight by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Specific and detailed safety standards are provided by federal legislation and regulations. Toy manufacturers are required to test certain types of toys for safety, and the tests must be conducted by federally approved labs. If a toy is deemed to have a safety problem, the manufacturer may be required to include a warning on the toy’s packaging. If the toy packaging includes a warning, it should be specific, making clear the potential danger. Although a toy may come with a warning, such a warning may not provide notice of all hazards, particularly if the danger is unforeseen. A toy packaged with a warning label may still be defective and cause injury, providing the basis for a product liability claim.

When Warnings Are Not Enough

Even toy manufacturers who place responsible warnings on their products may, at times, fail to warn against an unforeseen but reasonable danger. An unforeseen danger could be the result of testing the entire toy, while components that pose a risk to a child remain untested. For example, a toy packaging warning against potential flammability from a plastic sword that lights up may not indicate that a child is also at risk of choking or suffocating on decorative pieces that may detach from the toy. Warnings may be considered ineffective against serious injuries to children because parents may not appreciate the hazard posed by the toy.

Product Liability

Lawsuits based on a child's injury from a toy are often based on the legal concept of product liability. There are three main types of product liability claims, which include: 1) defective manufacture; 2) defective design; and 3) failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions regarding how to properly use the product. In a product liability case against a toy manufacturer, the parent typically argues that the design or manufacture of the toy caused his or her child’s injuries. Additionally, the facts of the case may demonstrate that warnings on the toy packaging were inadequate. In such a case, there may have been a warning on the toy packaging, but an inadequate warning will not prevent a defective product lawsuit.

Who is Responsible?

The law requires that toy manufacturers exercise reasonable care in the design of a toy. In other words, the toy should not unnecessarily harm a child. But the law does not state that the manufacturer has an absolute duty to ensure that all children who play with the toys be free from injury. It would be unreasonable to require that manufacturers make toys that are completely risk-free. Whether or not a manufacturer is culpable for the injury of a child depends on the specific circumstances surrounding the injury. An expert in product defects and injury law should be consulted to determine if the manufacturer was negligent.

While toy manufacturers are common targets for injury claims, in some cases, the retail stores where the toys were purchased may be held liable for defective toy injuries. Retailers have a duty to ensure the toys they sell are safe.

Because product liability cases can be complex and laws differ from state to state, consider consulting with an experienced injury attorney if your child has been injured by a defective toy. Even if a warning is present on the packaging, the presence of a warning, by itself, will not necessarily determine if a manufacturer or retailer is or is not liable for a child’s injury.