My eyes! Do we really need to be warned not to stare directly into the solar eclipse?

For the last several weeks everywhere I’ve looked I’ve seen advertisements and information about the phenomenal “once in a lifetime” eclipse on August 21, 2017.  Special glasses were sold, people booked trips to far away locations that would provide excellent views of the event, there were eclipse parties, and really no end to the eclipse madness.  So that made me wonder how I could tie the eclipse into the law.  My answer was right there on Facebook – eclipse glasses!!!!

One thing that was discussed everywhere was the potential for retina damage from looking into the sun during the eclipse.  I won’t pretend to understand how my retinas were going to be anymore damaged from looking at the sun today as opposed to any other day in August where it feels like the skin is going to melt smooth off my body, but apparently there’s something to this theory.

Anyway, eclipse glasses were everywhere!!!! The purpose of eclipse glasses is to allow the wearer to stare into the sky at the sun and the moon as they pass on another in this “once in a lifetime event” (which incidentally will occur in about 7 years in North America and 2 years in South America). So I thought about eclipse glasses as a product and if they failed who could I sue and for what if I went blind after staring into the solar eclipse.

This kind of claim is known as a “product’s liability” claim and is based on the notion that anyone in the chain of distribution of a product from component part manufacturer to final distributor can be liable for the harm caused by a defective product.  Under Oklahoma law, a product is defective when it is not reasonably fit for the ordinary purposes for which such products are intended or may reasonably be expected to be used. A product can be defective due to the way it is designed, manufactured or based upon the way the consumer is warned about its use.

A design defect is inherent in the design of the product and the defect cannot be removed unless the product is redesigned in some manner.   The classic example would be a power saw designed without a proper finger guard. If there is a design defect every model of the product that is designed in that way is defective regardless of whether it has injured someone yet. This was the problem with the Ford Pinto with the exploding gas tank.

A manufacturing defect occurs when the product is otherwise properly designed, but there is an error in the manufacturing process that causes the product to become unreasonably dangerous.  A good example of this is an exposed sharp edge that according to the design should be covered in a way that would protect the consumer from injury, but do to an occurrence in the manufacturing process did not properly get covered up.

A warning defect occurs when the product when used in its ordinary and foreseeable manner does not have ordinary or reasonable instructions about its dangerous character and the risk of harm associated with the product is not one that an ordinary user would reasonably expect. Warnings are not required when the danger is obvious to an ordinary user from the nature of the product or information known to the user.  This kind of defect is the reason why your hairdryer says don’t use this product while taking a bath.

Knowing all of this, its unlikely that I could sue anyone if I went blind wearing my eclipse glasses due to a warning defect, because the ordinary user should know that you don’t look directly into the sun for long periods of time, especially during an eclipse.  The eclipse glasses could have a design defect if the design of the glasses did not adequately consider the amount of filtration necessary to protect an individual’s eyes for the expected length of time while looking into the eclipse.  Additionally, the glasses could have a manufacturing defect, if the manufacturer determined the appropriate rate of filtration in the design but if in the manufacture a substandard component lens was used that did not provide the appropriate level of filtration on a specific production of the glasses.

The moral of the story is if you stared into the sun to experience this remarkable phenomenon of nature on August 21, 2017, keep your receipt and glasses. That way if your doctor tells you that your retinas have been burned you can call a lawyer to discuss whether your glasses had a flawed design, if they were poorly manufactured or if it would have been better to just listen to your grade school teacher about not looking directly at the sun during an eclipse.

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