The Law School Authority

Hahn v. Sterling Drug Case Brief

Summary of Hahn v. Sterling Drug, U. S. Ct App [1986]

Defective Instructions & Warnings

Relevant Facts: Early in the evening, in 1982, the Hahns 7 y/o child was allowed to use Campho-Phenique, a topical analgesic, to treat a cold sore.  This child misplaced the lid, some time later 4 y/o Valerie Hahn swallowed 1 ½ oz of Camph-Phenique.  ½ hour later she was convulsing, vomiting, and stop breathing for a time.  After treatment at a Hospital she was transferred to ICU at a Children’s Hospital for 24 hours.  She was released and suffered no permanent disability. Pl’s expert testified that the warning was general and its effect is watered down by the fact the same warning appears on non-harmful products like vitamins.  He also admitted that the warning advised a RP that the product was potentially toxic and that ingestion might create a grave danger.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the jury should have decided if the warning on the product was adequate, given the unsafe nature of the product?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: D Ct directed a verdict , Affirm that the parents are not entitled, Reverse and remand for trial.

Law or Rule(s): Whether adequate efforts were made to communicate a warning to the ultimate user and whether the warning if communicated was adequate are uniformly held questions for the jury.

Court Rationale:As we understand the decided cases in this area of the law, it is appropriate for a jury to determine the adequacy of the product’s warning.   A jury may or may not consider the intelligence and experience of the consumer-plaintiff, that does not play a part in our rationale in determining whether or not the question should or should not be presented to the jury.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Campho-Phenique is a defective product b/c the warning on the container was inadequate and the product did not have a child proof cap. The danger posed by the product when ingested by small children was great enough to require a more stringent warning.

Defendant’s Argument: No RP could find the label inadequate, the Hahns were well educated, had read the label, understood the meaning of ingestion, and knew of the necessity of keeping medicines away from children.

The Hahns pointed out that there are several factors which could have led a jury to believe that the warning was inadequate. 1) Pl read the label and were unaware of the risk; 2) Df was aware many children had been similarly injured, yet the warn was unchanged; 3) the product was known to be toxic and therefor required a more dramatic warning; 4) the warning was in a smaller print than other messages on the label; 5) the direction for external use was not followed by only; 6) the label stated the product may be used on the gums, indicating internal use may be possible; 7) label was silent as to possibility of seizures and respiratory failure if taken internally; 8) the warning to contact poison control was insufficient since it would have been just as easy to put the word poison on the label; 9) the warning is more like a helpful hint.

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