Manufacturer liability: Statement of intended use in the user manual
The content and scope of the user manual and the statement of the intended use of products are repeatedly a major issue for manufacturers. The question often arises in this respect of to what extent the statement of the intended use of a product has any influence at all on potential product liability.
The recent judgement of the Nuremberg Higher Regional Court (judgement of 20 May 2014, NJW-RR 2014, 1304) shows how the absence of a statement of intended use in a user manual can be a gateway for product liability:
The plaintiff in this case filed for compensation for damage (tooth damage) caused by an accident with a mountain bike. The accident occurred because the frame of the mountain bike manufactured by the defendant broke when the front wheel made contact with the road again after doing trick (riding on the rear wheel). The Nuremberg Higher Regional Court affirmed here – unlike the lower court – the liability of the manufacturer under the German Product Liability Act due to an instruction failure. The user manual did not contain any classification of the mountain bike. The manufacturer argued that the mountain bike was not suitable for the tricks and jumps carried out by the plaintiff. The court concluded – on the basis of an expert opinion – that it was not possible for the plaintiff on the basis of the information provided in the user manual to identify the proper use of the mountain bike and to adjust its use accordingly. As a consequence, the manufacturer is liable in the assessment of the court for damage resulting from the use of the mountain bike for jumps and tricks which are at any rate to be attributed to its obvious use.
Connection between statement of intended use and product liability
This decision shows how important it is to state the usage possibilities carefully taking possible areas of use and technical parameters into consideration. The statement of intended use is here a double-edged sword: it can, for example, limit product liability if the use of the product which causes damage is so far outside its scope that a foreseeable incorrect use could no longer be assumed. It can, on the other hand, provide the very first connecting factor for product liability because it specifically defines the intended use for which the manufacturer is liable. It also needs to be taken into account that the user manual is only one of several circumstances which are considered by the courts when defining foreseeable use.