Saturday, January 29, 2011

No need for Spanish warnings, federal court says...

Thanks for Prof. Alberto Bernabe, of Chicago's John Marshall School of Law, who has brought this recent case to my attention. In Farias v. Mr. Heater, 2010 WL 4814660, the United States District Court of the Southern District of Florida found that there is no duty to provide safety warnings about products in Spanish. In doing so, the court dismissed the lawsuit of a Spanish speaker who had sued the manufacturer of two space heaters purchased at a Home Depot in Miami, following a fire in her home caused by the heaters.

In the court's view, the plaintiff, who has limited command of the English language (she did understand the word "caution") failed to investigate the danger to which she had been alerted by the manufacturer in the user's manuals for the heaters. The court also distinguished an earlier case, Stanley Industries v. W.M. Barr, 784 F.Supp. 1570 (S.D. Fla. 1992) in which a duty to warn in Spanish was found when the product was marketed specifically to a Spanish speaking population.

Prof. Bernabe has mixed feelings about this opinion, which I encourage you to have a look at in his Torts blog To me, the opinion does not recognize the reality of the limited availability of adult education English instruction for immigrants in the U.S. When last I worked directly with immigrant clients, I recall their dismay at the long waits for English classes. I don't imagine the situation has improved much in this age of budget cuts for education and human services, so this case puts immigrants' safety at risk, and as such, is cause for concern.