The Due Care Theory

business ethics  The Due Care Theory

The “due care” theory of the manufacturer’s duties to consumers is based on the idea that consumers and sellers do not meet as equals and that the consumer’s interests are particularly vulnerable to being harmed by the manufacturer who has a knowledge and an expertise that the consumer lacks. Because manufactures are in a more advantaged position, they have a duty to take special care to ensure that consumers interests are not harmed by the products that they offer them. The doctrine of caveat emptor is here replaced with a weak version of the doctrine of caveat vendor: let the seller take care.

The “due care” view holds then that, because consumers must depend on the greater expertise of the manufacturer, the manufacturer not only has a duty to deliver a product that lives up to the express and implied claims about it, but also has a duty to exercise due care to prevent others from being injured by the product even if the manufacturer violates this duty and is negligent when there is a failure to exercise the care that a reasonable person could have foreseen would be necessary to prevent others from being harmed by use of the product. Due care must enter into the design of the product, the choice of reliable materials for constructing the product, the manufacturing processes involved in putting the product together, the quality control used to test and monitor production, and the warnings, labels, and instructions attached to the product. In each of these areas, according to the due care view, the manufacturer, in virtue of a greater expertise and knowledge, has a positive duty to take whatever as possible, and the customers has a right to such assurance. Failure to take such steps is a breach of the moral duty to exercise due care and a violation of the injured person’s right to expect such care

– a right that rests on the consumer’s need to rely on the manufacturer’s expertise.

The Duty to Exercise Due Care

According to the due care theory, manufacturers exercise sufficient care only when they take adequate steps to prevent whatever injurious effects they can foresee that the use to their product may have on consumers after having attempted to anticipate any possible misuses of the product. A manufacturer then is not morally negligent when others are harmed by a product and the harm was not one that the manufacturer could have possible foreseen or prevented. Nor is a manufacturer morally negligent after having taken all reasonable steps to protect the consumer and ensure that the consumer is informed of any irremovable risks that might still attend the use of the product. For example, a car manufacturer, cannot be said to be negligent from a moral point of new when people carelessly misuse the cars the manufacturer products. A car manufacturer would be morally negligent only if it had allowed unreasonable dangers to remain in the design of the car that consumers cannot be expected to know about or cannot guard against by taking their own precautionary measures.

Manufacturers’ responsibilities to exercise due care extends to the following three areas:

1.  Design -A product’s design should not conceal any dangers, should incorporate all feasible safety devices, and use adequate materials. The design should additionally be well tested to ensure that consumers will use the product properly.

2.  Production -The manufacturing process must be controlled to eliminate any defective items, identify weaknesses, and ensure that unsafe economizing measures are not taken.

3.  Information -The firm should fix labels, notices, and instructions on the product warning of all potential dangers involved in using or misusing the item.

Manufacturers must also take into consideration the capacities of the persons who they expect will use the product. If the possible harmful effects of using a product are serious or if they cannot be adequately understood without expert opinion, then sale of the product should be carefully controlled.

Problems with “Due Care”

The basic difficulty raised by the “due care” theory is that there is no clear method for determining when one has exercised enough “due care”. That is, there is no hard and fast rule for determining how far a firm must go to ensure the safety of its product.

A second difficulty raised by the “due care” theory is that it assumes that the manufacturer can discover the risks that attend the use of a product before the consumer buys and uses it.

Third, the due care view appears to some to be paternalistic: it assumes that the manufacturer should be the one who makes the important decisions for the consumer, at least with respect to the levels of risks that are proper for consumers to bear. One may wonder whether such decisions should not be left up to the free choice of consumers who can decide for themselves whether they want to pay for additional risk reduction.

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