Do Misleading Labels Constitute a Product Defect?
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of George E. McLaughlin with McLaughlin Law Firm.
False or misleading labels are a big problem, so much so that laws exist to prevent product manufacturers from engaging in deceptive or false advertising. Misleading labels can be tricky to identify, and even harder to prove; this is because misleading labels are often not overtly false, but intend to deceive consumers.
For example, a food product may be labeled 100% Fruit Juice, and while it does have some 100% fruit juice in the ingredients, added sugars and artificial flavors could make up the bulk of the ingredients. So while the assertion that 100% fruit juice is present in the product is not false, consumers may understandably be misled into thinking the product consists entirely of natural fruit juice and nothing else. Whenever someone is injured as the result of a misleading product label, the injured party may be eligible to file a claim against the manufacturer over damages including medical bills, lost wages, and more.
A misleading label could be considered a defect if it leads to harm for the consumer.
Types of product defects can range from errors made during the manufacturing process to a design that is inherently unsafe. However, when a product is made or marketed in such a way that it could cause harm to a consumer, the mistake could be considered a defect. Similarly, while a misleading label may not always be a defect, if someone would not have purchased a product or paid the original price had they known the product was labeled inaccurately, they may be eligible to begin a class action lawsuit. Class action lawsuits are particularly common when allegations of misleading labels arise, as many consumers are often affected similarly by the same label.
The Lanham Act prohibits manufacturers from misrepresenting their products.
According to the Lanham Act which was enacted in 1946 and amended in 1988, companies are prohibited from misrepresenting “the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of. . . goods, services, or commercial activities.” Each state may have its own additional laws regarding false or misleading advertising which companies and manufacturers are required to abide by. If a corporation fails to comply with accurate labeling requirements in their state and deceives or is likely to deceive consumers intentionally or unintentionally, they could face claims under false advertising law.
Some of the most common misleading labels in the U.S. revolve around health claims.
Similar to the example in the first paragraph, it is not uncommon for a company to design its labels in a way that makes a product look healthier than it is. Phrases like “multi-grain”, “no cholesterol”, and “natural” imply that the product in question is healthier than other similar products; however, many of these products contain highly-refined grains that hold no health benefit or are products that do not contain cholesterol to begin with.
The word “natural” is largely misleading, as a product does not have to pass any regulated test to use the word on the labeling. However, words aren’t the only way a label can be misleading. Pictures of fresh fruit sprinkled with water on the front of a carbonated beverage could imply the consumer will receive some of the health benefits derived from those fruits, even if the drink primarily contains artificial flavors.
If you or a loved one suffered as a result of misleading labels, reach out to a product liability attorney in your area to talk about your options.