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Computer Keypads to Get Warnings : Consumers: Two leading makers will emphasize risk to arms, wrists. Injury lawsuits may have influenced them.

From Associated Press

Compaq Computer Corp. said Tuesday that it will put warning labels on computer keyboards directing people to read a safety guide that offers tips on avoiding hand and wrist injuries.

Microsoft Corp. will also place warning labels on a specially designed keyboard it will begin selling in a few weeks.

The companies will become the first to state clearly that there is risk of injury from keyboard misuse or too much typing. There was no immediate sign that other computer makers would join them.

The labeling announcements raise the profile of a health issue confronting the computer industry. Dozens of manufacturers, including Compaq, are defending themselves in lawsuits brought by people who have suffered wrist or arm injuries.

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The central issue in many of the suits is whether people were adequately warned about the potential for harm. Injuries can range from simple soreness to swelling that damages nerves in the wrist, a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

A partner in a New York law firm representing 2,000 plaintiffs in keyboard injury cases praised Compaq and Microsoft, but said the size and placement of the labels would make a difference.

“The fact some of these companies may be waking up to the interest in warning people is a very positive development,” said Robert Komitor, partner at Levi, Phillips and Konigsberg. “Time will tell whether these warnings are adequate or whether they’re to avert litigation.”

Compaq will place on top of the keyboard a sticker bearing the message: “Warning! To reduce risk of serious injury to hands, wrists or other joints, read Safety & Comfort guide.”

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The company, which was the leading seller of personal computers in the first half of this year, has included a booklet of safety tips with each computer since 1991. It said it will have a new version of that booklet ready when the warning labels go out in the fall.

“This makes it visible to the user that there’s a document there that they ought to see, or that they’re missing and can request,” said John Rose, senior vice president of Compaq’s desktop division. He said the company was not reacting to litigation, and declined to discuss what the legal ramifications may be.

Compaq earlier this year won a lawsuit brought by Patsy Woodcock, a Houston secretary who claimed that injuries caused by typing left her unable to work. Compaq argued that information available in 1988, when Woodcock began working on the keyboard, did not warrant such a warning.


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