News headlines…Twelve year old seriously injured at baseball game, Local custom painter held liable for defective safety helmet. Got your attention? While not quite accurate, this was a real situation that resulted in a law suite, filed against both the helmet manufacture and the custom painter who painted the helmet. It was found that the custom painter was negligent because he had not contacted the manufacture of the helmet for specific painting instructions and therefore degraded the structure of the helmet, which failed to protect the wearer. This turned out to be a very costly mistake since the individual was not covered by insurance and ended up liable for all medical and legal expenses associated with the individual’s recovery and compensation. There have been other cases across the United States which have involved similar litigation, not only with sports equipment like baseball helmets and bicycle helmets, but also motorcycle helmets that have failed resulting in injury and death. With so many people wanting their motorcycle helmets custom painted or their child to stand out with that cool paint job on their baseball helmet, you as a custom painter must be informed as well as being an advocate for your customer.
When you stop for a minute and think about it…it’s not hard to be knowledgeable about the product you are working with. Most safety gear has a brand clearly displayed somewhere on it. The internet will yield a wealth of information, specifically phone numbers that will allow you to get in contact with the technical department, who, in most cases (but not all) will be more than happy to provide you with accurate information as to what you can and can not do to their product. Some will tell you flat out that it is unsafe to break the surface of their original paint finish, and doing so will void the warranty. This is because it is so easy to go too far when stripping a helmet and break through the base structure of the helmet, thus weakening it. Some helmet manufactures sell specially prepped helmets that have been pre-primed specifically for custom painters (Mostly Motor Cross). You must assemble the helmet after painting and they have a specific set of guidelines that must be strictly adhered too. When it comes to baseball helmets, I can only speak for one company that I have had dealings with and they gave me specific instructions as to the paint type and brand that could be used and specific application procedures, if I wanted to use anything else I would have to purchase several of their helmets, paint them, then send them to their testing lab with a complete set of specifications on the paint as well as the process used.
Once a determination was made that the helmet would stand up to its minimum safety requirements then a technical directive would be added to their data base which would then be an acceptable process for decorating that specific product with that specific procedure. This could be an expensive process, especially if that company has a large selection of helmet models, but if you have a large customer base it may be worth the time and extra expense to protect yourself as well as your customers.
Being an advocate for your customer goes right along with being informed. You owe it to your customer to get as much information about their product as you can and if the answer is no, then you’ve got to inform them. If the manufacturer will not warranty the product after you have painted it then you’ve got to let the customer know that. If the manufacture of a baseball helmet tells you that their product will only retain its safety protection with a certain type of paint applied a certain way, it’s not in your best interest or your customers to do otherwise. I know for sure that I would not want a young child’s life to be turned upside down because I wanted to make a fast buck and ignored the manufacturer. If you’ve informed the customer of your findings and they still insist on having their helmet painted then first, you’ve got to decide whether you want to take that risk and if you do then that’s your business, but I would strongly suggest that you contact an attorney that specializes in product liability and have a disclaimer drawn up that would alleviate you of any responsibility in the event that the product fails. I venture to say that you may find it difficult to find such a lawyer that would not inform you that it was not in your best interest to do this. In reality this won’t help much because the minute something happens you are the week link in the process and guess who their going to go after. As an advocate for your customer, their safety should be the number one issue and not the potential monetary gain.
Choosing to be safe and to provide a safe product takes a lot less time and expense then dealing with injuries, medical bills and going to court…Just food for thought…Robin
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