Do You Have to Print Warning Labels in Spanish?

Posted by Jeanine Gagliardi on Wed, 08/22/2012 - 20:55

A practical concern for businesses that make and sell things is the effect of immigration on their duty to consumers. Manufacturers and sellers have a duty to warn consumers of products that are dangerous if the danger is not obvious. The warning must make the danger apparent. One issue manufacturers and sellers face is whether it an English-only warning is adequate. What about consumers that do not speak English?

The law says you may need to account for that if you direct your marketing efforts at people who do not speak English. In a recent case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that English-only warnings on propane heaters were enough, in that particular situation.

A Hispanic consumer purchased two heaters, used them inside her home, and left a propane valve open while she slept. The consumer’s home caught fire, and she sued the manufacturers and seller, claiming that they failed to provide adequate notice of the danger of using the heaters indoors. The heaters carried English-only warnings.

The trial court recognized that the applicable law does not automatically require bilingual product warnings. Finding the English-only warnings provided by the manufacturers and seller to be accurate, clear, and unambiguous, the trial court summarily rejected the consumer’s claim.

The consumer appealed, claiming that, because the manufacturers and seller marketed the heaters to a Hispanic community, the warnings should also have been written in Spanish. The appellate court recognized that, where a manufacturer or seller regularly and actively markets to people who speak a language other than English, the manufacturer or seller may be required to provide warnings in other languages.

In this case, however, because the consumer produced no evidence that the manufacturers and seller specifically marketed the heaters to Spanish-speakers, the appellate court affirmed the decision of the trial court.

The case is a warning of sorts to manufacturers and sellers: if you are marketing products requiring a warning to consumers who speak another language, a warning in English may not be enough.

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