Court Finds Warning Labels on Paint Stripper Comply with Federal Law, Denies Products Liability Claim

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1190912_22327225.jpgAn appeals court in Massachusetts, reviewing a failure-to-warn claim, examined federal regulations governing labels on hazardous products. The court upheld a directed verdict for the defendants in Namundi v. Rocky’s Ace Hardware, LLC, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 665 (Mass. App. Ct. 2012), holding that the warning label on a can of paint stripper complied with the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA).

The plaintiffs bought a can of “Ace Liquid Stripper” from a hardware store. The label on the front of the can reportedly included, near the bottom, the all-capitalized words “DANGER!” and “POISON!” with a skull-and-crossbones illustration. In slightly smaller all-capitalized letters, the label also included warnings about flammability, the dangers of swallowing the product, vapors, and skin contact. The label directed consumers to more-detailed “HEALTH HAZARD INFORMATION” on the can’s back panel.

The plaintiffs stored the can of stripper in their basement, reportedly near a gas water heater. The heater’s pilot light ignited vapors from the stripper, which caused a flash fire resulting in severe burns to both plaintiffs. They filed suit against the manufacturer and the retailer, alleging that the labels on the can were inadequate, that the can was defective, and that the product was unreasonably dangerous. The trial court granted a directed verdict to the defendants on the question of the warning label, holding that it complied with the requirements of the FHSA, found in 15 U.S.C. § 1261 et seq. and 16 C.F.R. § 1500 et seq. The jury then entered a verdict finding the defendants not liable for any design defect.