Finding that “the dangers of alcohol, including the risk of becoming an alcoholic, are obvious, regardless of whether one is predisposed to that disease,” a federal court
in Idaho has dismissed a tort action filed by state department of correction inmates seeking to hold alcoholic beverage makers liable for failing to warn the plaintiffs that consuming alcohol can be habit-forming or addictive. Brown v. Miller Brewing Co., No. 12-0605 (D. Idaho Jan. 17, 2014). Because Idaho views the purported dangers of alcohol as obvious, the court dismissed with prejudice a complaint that sought $1 billion in damages and new labeling.
Among the plaintiffs’ allegations was that a label warning the public that even reasonable drinking can lead to alcohol addiction “due to the possibility of a predisposition” to the disease would have stopped them from taking their first drink as youths. They argued that this predisposition is not a commonly known danger. Acknowledging that Idaho courts had not yet addressed this precise issue, the court found that the state has adopted the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A, which provides that products safely designed and manufactured can be dangerously defective if the manufacturer has reason to know of its dangerous propensities but fails to provide adequate warnings to purchasers or users. Still, “the duty to warn of a product’s dangerous propensities ‘is limited to situations wherein the danger is not obvious.’”
Finding nothing in state law to support the plaintiffs’ claims, the court explored decisions from other jurisdictions and found persuasive case law and commentary rejecting prior invitations to widen the scope of warnings for alcohol. In this regard, the court states, “It would be next to impossible to create an effective warning label that would warn of the myriad combinations of alcohol use and of human characteristics that might contribute to alcoholism. And, even if it could be done, it would be unnecessary, because the danger of alcoholism is subsumed in the general dangers of alcohol commonly known to the public.”The court further rejected claims that advertising focusing on the “pleasurable nature” of the products supports “a higher duty to warn against the perils of alcoholism.”
“It would be next to impossible to create an effective warning label that would warn of the myriad combina- tions of alcohol use and of human characteristics that might contribute to alcoholism. And, even if it could be done, it would be unnecessary, because the danger of alcoholism is subsumed in the general dangers of alcohol commonly known to the public.”