Lewis v. Sea Ray Boats, Inc.
65 P.3d 245 (Nev. 2003)

Facts:

  • Leo Gasse and Robin Lewis slept overnight on Lake Mead in the cabin of a Sea Ray pleasure boat.
    • The boat contained a small gasoline generator, which powered the boat’s accessories, including the air conditioner.
  • The next morning, a friend found Leo dead and Robin barely breathing.
    • The cause was carbon monoxide poisoning (a tasteless odorless gas) from the generator.
  • Suit was brought for inadequate warnings.
  • The warnings that were provided specifically addressed the danger of carbon monoxide exposure from exhaust fumes, generally addressed dangers attendant to carbon monoxide exposure, and only inferentially addressed dangers in connection with generator fumes.
    • This was significant because exhaust fumes emit an odor that would alert passengers whereas generator fumes would not.

History:

  • The jury returned a verdict for Sea Ray.
    • The court gave the following instruction regarding what constitutes an adequate warning: “The question of whether or not a given warning is legally sufficient depends upon the language used and the impression that such language is calculated to make upon the mind of the average user of the product.”
    • The jury was confused by the instruction and wanted a better definition, but none was given.
  • Plaintiffs appealed.

Issue:
Whether the instruction was sufficient to assist the jury in resolving the liability issues based upon an alleged failure to warn.

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • First, courts will not exonerate products manufacturers as a matter of law from strict tort liability based upon general warnings language.
  • Second, these instructions left lay jurors, persons in much the same position as the users of the product at issue, to search their imaginations to test the adequacy of the warnings.
  • Third, the jurors were entitled to more specific guidance as to the law governing the duty to warn in connection with consumer products.
  • The court then adopted the following instruction: A warning must
    1. Be designed to reasonably catch the consumer’s attention;
    2. Be comprehensible and give a fair indication of the specific risks attendant to use of the product; and
    3. Be of sufficient intensity justified by the magnitude of the risk.