Warning Label Experts Discuss Inadequate Labeling on Small Electronics

    Warnings Expert WitnessThis case involves a mother in Mississippi who bought a package of small, battery powered toys with multicolored LED illumination. The mother distributed the toys to her own children as well as several of their friends during a birthday party at the defendant’s house. The toys were powered by small coin cell batteries that were accessible by a plastic battery compartment hatch that was secured by a thin latch. At some point, one of the younger children managed to open the battery compartment and extract the coin cell battery, at which point he swallowed the battery. The child suffered extensive injuries, including a perforated esophagus, as a result of swallowing the battery. It was noted that the toys lacked any significant warnings regarding the batteries, including the risk of ingestion.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • 1. Are you familiar with the standards governing batteries and warnings that accompany them?
    • 2. Have you ever had a role in the past in designing warnings, especially for consumer products?

    Expert Witness Response E-031971

    I wrote my PhD dissertation on communication and warning labels and have published multiple peer-reviewed articles on warning labels and risk communication. This product does not look dangerous, and is easily swallowed, so it needs an adequate warning label and possibly other media to warn users of serious consequences. My understanding is that there are federal requirements for shipping batteries and even recent requirements for lithium batteries that indicate their combustible nature. It is possible that the Federal Hazardous Substance Act could apply here in that it has a warning label requirement for household products that are toxic or corrosive and it includes products that can be swallowed by young children. For adequate labeling, the ANSI Z535 warning label standard would apply here and it details signal word, placement, content, and color. I have designed warning labels and have advised manufacturers about the use of ANSI Z535 in creating their labels.

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