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No Need for Spanish Warnings on Products, Miami Court Rules

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 04, 2011 5:50 AM

¡Aviso! ¡Peligro! ¡Advertencia!

If you live in the United States, chances are you've seen these Spanish warnings posted before. But guess what? Manufacturers and businesses may be posting them out of the goodness of their hearts and not any legal requirement.

A District Court judge in Miami has ruled that manufacturers are not required to translate warning labels into other languages except in very narrow instances. While the case deals with Spanish warnings, it applies to all languages.

Lilybet Farias, a Spanish-speaking woman who was unable to read the English-language warning labels and user's manual, purchased two propane heaters from a local Home Depot, reports Abnormal Use. Despite turning off one of the heaters, it set fire to her house, the blog further reports. The woman sued the manufacturer, saying that it was negligent not to have put Spanish warnings on the heater.

To make a case for negligence, a plaintiff must show the following:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff some duty of care to protect from injury
  • The defendant breached that duty
  • The defendant's failure to fulfill its duty caused the injury

This case focuses primarily on the first requirement. A manufacturer doesn't have a duty to protect everyone from their product. In most states, however, it has the duty to protect foreseeable plaintiffs from injury. At the most basic level, this means it owes a duty of care to people who purchase or use its product. Ordinarily, this would include Lilybet Farias.

Instead, the judge determined that manufacturers must only answer to those it intends to lure in as customers. In other words, because none of the packaging or marketing was in Spanish, the manufacturer did not intend for non-English speaking persons to purchase its heaters.

If a manufacturer does not intend for you to give it money, then it owes you no duty of care. Keep in mind that these heaters were being sold in Miami.

It's not really clear why the court veered from such a long-standing legal principle. It may have something to do with the potential consequences, namely the possibility that manufacturers will have to warn customers in dozens of languages. Regardless, the impact of this case is minimal--it was decided by a District Court and thus only applies in parts of Florida.

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