Sophisticated User: What Is This Product Liability Defense That Can Destroy Your Claim

What is this mysterious “sophisticated user” defense that relieves the manufacturer or seller of product liability and bars you from seeking compensation?
A chainsaw that says, “do not hold the wrong end of a chainsaw.” A washing machine that says, “do not put any persons in this washer.” A Starbucks coffee cup that says, “Caution: contents hot.”
While these warning labels may be ludicrous, obvious, and even unnecessary at time, they serve as critical precautionary information that protects manufacturers or sellers from a plethora of potential ridiculous product liability lawsuits (such as “my child has been injured after I put him into a washing machine so he could wash himself”).
While such precautionary information is important when labeling products to prevent injuries, harm, and unnecessary litigation, there can be a blurred line between hazards that are obvious or knowable and those that are not as obvious. And that is what our Los Angeles product liability attorney is going to talk about today. The “sophisticated user” defense, the type of defense that may prevent you from seeking damages if the defendant(s) can prove that you were aware of the degree of danger or risks involved when using the product.

What is the ‘sophisticated user’ defense?

Contrary to the popular belief, the “sophisticated user” doctrine can apply not only in pharmaceutical drug lawsuits, but also in other product liability cases. In reality, a manufacturer, seller, distributor, or other defendant being sued for a manufacturing or design defect or failure to warn can attempt to mount this type of defense to avoid liability.
In product liability cases involving the defendant’s duty to warn, the defendant may call the plaintiff’s claims into question by arguing that the plaintiff was a “sophisticated user” who knew or should have known of the risks or hazards involved. In other words, the manufacturer, seller, or distributor may be able to prove that certain precautionary information was either unnecessary or inadequate.
If the defendant argues that the plaintiff – the party who suffered injuries or harm – is a sophisticated user who possesses special knowledge or expertise about the product and the risks and hazards of using it, the defendant may be able to prove that the user should not have been warned of those risks to prevent injuries.

When this product liability defense can apply

Our Los Angeles product liability lawyer from the Compass Law Group, LLP explains what elements must be proved by the defendant in order to nullify a plaintiff’s claim alleging failure to warn.

  1. First and foremost, before mounting the “sophisticated user” defense in a product liability case in Los Angeles or elsewhere in California, the defendant must ensure that this particular defense can apply in his/her case. While the defense is available in strict liability and negligence failure to warn cases, it is not applicable in cases involving strict liability/design defect under the risk/benefit analysis.
  2. This defense may also apply in other product liability claims where the plaintiff cannot claim to be an “ordinary consumer.”
  3. If the “sophisticated user” defense is argued, it is the defendant’s obligation to present evidence that the plaintiff was aware or should have been aware of the risks, harm, or danger associated with using the product because of his or her experience, knowledge, skills, position, training, or other factors.
  4. When arguing that the plaintiff is a “sophisticated user,” the defendant must present evidence that the plaintiff knew or should have known of the potential hazards, risks, or danger, at the time of the injury, not from the date the product was manufactured.

If you have been injured as a result of using a defective product, you may be entitled to seek compensation for your injuries, damages, and losses. However, it is paramount that you learn about all the potential defenses and arguments that manufacturers of sellers may use against you during litigation. Speak to our best product liability attorneys in Los Angeles in a free consultation.


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