Are Product Liability Disclaimers Effective?
The answer is: usually not. Whether a liability disclaimer is taken seriously by a court depends on a number of factors, but a general statement disclaiming any liability is typically not considered by courts.
A Bad Disclaimer Violates all Implied Warranties
Whenever you buy something, the sellers and manufacturers are legally bound by the "implied warranty of merchantability" and the "implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose." These are terms that mean that sellers promise buyers that the product is safe and designed well enough to be used in the manner the designer intended. These promises are implied -- which means that they need not be spelled out every time you buy something. The company that made whatever you purchased may still have to pay you damages if it is unsafe.
However, some companies try to reduce the amount of money they will have to pay, or try to avoid court altogether, by including disclaimers that look like this:
"No claims, representations or warranties, whether expressed or implied, are made by both our companies as to the safety, reliability, durability and performance of any of our companies' products. Furthermore, our company accepts no liability whatsoever for the safety, reliability, durability and performance of any of our companies' products."
For most consumer transactions, these kinds of disclaimers are generally disregarded by the customer, because the customer cannot negotiate these terms before purchasing the product. Additionally, if companies were allowed to escape liability by simply writing this disclaimer, makers would have less incentive to ensure their products are safe.
However, a seller can remove liability by informing the customer before the purchase that a product must be taken "as-is." This means that there might be faults with the products and the buyer has the opportunity to inspect the product and decide whether he really wants to buy it.
A Good Liability Disclaimer Restates Warnings that Would Already Be Considered by a Court
Sometimes, disclaimers look more like this:
"In no event shall our company be liable for any direct, indirect, punitive, incidental, special consequential damages, to property or life, whatsoever arising out of or connected with the use or misuse of our products."
This kind of disclaimer is much more likely to be enforced because companies cannot be held liable for any thing that happens when someone misuses their products in an unforeseen manner. For example, if someone drinks antifreeze, they are using the product in a manner that was not intended by the manufacturer, and the manufacturer cannot be liable for any injury that might happen. If the company chooses to put that disclaimer on the package, then courts might give it more consideration because it warns the customer not to misuse the product.
See FindLaw's product liability section for more information.