Legal Translation of Multilingual Warning Labels

Legal Translation of Foreign Language Labels

Multilingual legal document translation services are routinely required by law firms and corporations.  As the number of individuals in the United States who do not speak English continues to increase, the issue of whether manufacturers should be mandated to supply multilingual warning labels on products has come to the forefront.  Currently, manufacturers are not required to supply multilingual warning labels, and courts have generally sided in favor of the manufacturers in product liability lawsuits attempting to hold manufacturers liable for failing to include such warning labels.

One such case involves a recent lawsuit decided by the Supreme Court of New York, Richmond County.  In Hernanez v. Asoli, Slip Op 30513(U), decided March 28, 2016, the court considered a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendants were negligent in failing to put Spanish language warning labels on a meat grinder. The plaintiff in Hernandez was injured while working as a bus-boy at an Italian restaurant when the restaurant owner instructed him to grate a large slab of cheese with a meat grinder.  While the plaintiff was doing so, the plaintiff’s fingers got caught in the meat grinder, causing extensive injuries which led to the amputation of plaintiff’s three fingers.  In addition to suing his employer, the plaintiff filed suit against the distributer and restaurant equipment retailer, alleging claims of strict product liability, negligent design, and failure to warn. The plaintiff alleged that while there were warning labels or stickers located on the right side of the machine, he could not read them because he did not speak English.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing, among other things, that the meat grinder contained adequate on-product warning labels which, if followed, would have prevented the plaintiff’s injury. The court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in part.  As to the issue of the warning labels, the court held that “there is no duty to warn against an open and obvious danger of which the user is or should be aware as a result of ordinary observation or as a matter of common sense.”  The court held that “while a manufacturer may be held liable for failing to warn against dangers of the foreseeable misuse of its product, there exists a limited class of hazards which, as a matter of law, need not be warned against because they are patently dangerous or pose open and obvious risks.”  The court noted that not only did the warning labels warn of the presence of “danger,” urge “caution” and “attention,” they also depicted a hand being severed upon touching the rotating blade.  In granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to the warning labels, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to abide by the warning labels posted on the machine and that the alleged failure to warn was not a proximate cause of the accident.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals also had the occasion to consider a similar case.  In Farias v. Mr. Heater, Inc., 684 F.3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2012), where the plaintiff alleged that the defendants had failed to provide sufficient Spanish-language warnings on a propane heater.  In Farias, the plaintiff purchased two propane-gas heaters from Home Depot and unwittingly used these heaters inside her home.  When plaintiff failed to close the valve on one of the propane tanks before she went to sleep, her home caught on fire, causing approximately $300,000 in damages.  The plaintiff field suit alleging, among other things, that the defendants had a duty under Florida law to provide sufficient warnings in the Spanish language.  The trial court rejected this argument, concluding that the defendants were not required as a matter of law to provide warnings in the Spanish language.  On appeal, the plaintiff argued the matter from a different angle, alleging that the heater’s English language warnings were inadequate and that the defendants could be liable for failure to provide Spanish language warning labels because they marketed the heater to the Hispanic community.  The 11th Circuit rejected both of these arguments, finding that the plaintiff had provided no evidence that the defendants marketed the heater to Spanish-speaking customers or used the Hispanic media.  The court further held that the district court did not err in ruling that the warnings provided on the propane heater were adequate as a matter of law.

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