Too Smart for Your Own Good – Limiting Strict Products Liability Under the “Sophisticated User” Defense

Generally, a manufacturer has a duty to warn of the potential dangers of its products. The purpose of this requirement is to inform consumers about a product’s hazards and faults so that they may avoid using the product or use it in a more careful manner. A manufacturer’s failure to warn of a reasonably knowable danger may result in strict liability to any person who is injured by the product.

However, some jurisdictions are beginning to recognize a limited exception to this rule when the person injured by the failure to warn was a sophisticated user. The “sophisticated user” defense recognizes that the failure to warn is not the proximate cause of harm where the person injured already had knowledge of the danger through their training or experience. When the defense is asserted, the duty to warn is measured by what is generally known or should have been known to the class of sophisticated users, rather than by the individual plaintiff’s subjective knowledge.

While this defense has been used by manufacturers to avoid liability in certain cases, it does not eliminate the obligation of a manufacturer to deliver safe products. The defense only applies to a failure to warn; it does not extend to a cause of action arising from defect in design or manufacturer. Further, manufacturers cannot expect that the end user will be in a class that has the requisite level of sophistication. Therefore, the best practice is for manufacturers to provide adequate warnings that inform consumers of the likely dangers of their products so that the end user can take action to limit potential injury.