Failure to Warn:

California Court of Appeal Justice William Bedsworth reports:

[A] New Jersey jury awarded a local college student $179,001 because the manufacturer of a “loft bed” failed to warn users of the bed that if they fell out of it, they could hurt themselves....

I am presently staring -— incredulously -— at the opinion of the poor three-judge panel that had to confront this verdict. I tell you, people don’t have any idea how hard appellate work is. Imagine having to explain all the things wrong with giving someone $179,001 because no one warned him against falling out of bed.

To begin with, the plaintiff was a college student.... If this is the level of cerebration accepted by New Jersey high schools, it hardly seems surprising that poor Princeton has to go begging to the other states for students....

Tragically, “There were no warning labels on the bed, and it had never ‘cross[ed his] mind’ or ‘occurred to’ plaintiff that he could fall or that the bed was dangerous in any way. He testified that had he seen a warning, he would have been ‘aware of the hazard that was present’ and slept closer to the wall, as he had done after the accident.” Honest. Says so right in the opinion.

And he had an expert, George Widas, who testified that industry standards in the bed-making industry require that the manufacturer affix a warning “that says make sure that you protect yourself from this fall hazard.” According to Widas, the warning label should have had “black letters on an orange background” and included a warning that both identified the hazard and explained how to avoid it.

So the label should have said -- in Day-Glo green letters on a phosphorescent-pink background -— “THIS IS A BED. USE ONLY WHILE AWAKE.” Or perhaps “IF YOUR IQ IS NOT THIS TALL, YOU CANNOT RIDE ON THIS BED.” Or how about an arrow pointing downward, with the legend “FALLING IN THIS DIRECTION COULD BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH. FALL ONLY UPWARD OR TO THE SIDE.” ...

To their everlasting credit, the appellate panel did not just say, “What, are you crazy?” They spent 20 pages explaining the case and delineating the legal basis for their reversal of their trial court colleague. After an extremely patient and erudite explication of New Jersey law, they concluded, “The risks are so obvious here that we fail to see ... what a warning could have advised in addition to the obvious.” Judgment reversed.

Note that the claim that the bed was defectively designed because it lacked a guardrail had been dismissed earlier, and the failure-to-warn claim is all that remained. The opinion is here; thanks to How Appealing for the pointer.