Computer Firms May Follow Compaq’s Lead on Warnings : Technology: O.C.-based manufacturers are concerned with growing number of suits claiming keyboard-related injuries.
Compaq Computer Corp.'s announcement that it will put labels on its keyboards warning of possible hand and wrist injuries has prompted manufacturers and distributors in Southern California to weigh whether they should follow Compaq’s lead.
Facing a growing number of product liability lawsuits linked to the use of computers, some companies that make and sell keyboards said Wednesday that they are studying ways to call customers’ attention to the potential for injury from repetitive stress.
“When keyboards first came out, we weren’t aware of carpal tunnel syndrome,” a painful wrist condition, said Rebecca Cradick, a spokeswoman for Toshiba America Inc.'s Information Systems Division in Irvine. “Now that it’s out there, we’d want to warn (customers) about it.”
Though there is no nationwide tally of liability suits involving computers, the number is growing, said Robert Komitor, a partner at Levi, Phillips and Konigsberg in New York. His firm represents about 1,000 plaintiffs who allege keyboard-related injuries. The suits are divided among about 100 manufacturers nationwide, Komitor said.
Among corporations involved in such litigation is AST Research Inc., the country’s fifth-largest maker of personal computers. AST, based in Irvine, stated in a filing with the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission in April that it faced 11 lawsuits alleging that its products caused carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive stress injuries.
An AST spokesman said Wednesday that it cannot comment on the issue while lawsuits are pending, except to say that it is aware of Compaq’s action.
Compaq, the leading seller of personal computers, said Tuesday that it will begin putting this notice on its keyboards: “Warning! To Reduce Risk of Serious Injury to Hands, Wrists or Other Joints, Read Safety & Comfort Guide.” Microsoft Corp. also said it will place notices on some of its keyboards.
“Compaq is a very prudent firm,” said William J. Milton, an analyst who follows computer companies for the Brown Brothers Harriman brokerage in New York. “I could see where others would follow because they have nothing to lose.”
Milton said he doubts that warning labels will affect the sales of Compaq or any other computer maker, though. “We simply can’t do without these machines,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Toshiba said Wednesday that the company might begin including with its notebook computers “usage manuals” covering topics such as proper posture and hand and wrist positions when using the computers.
Other companies, however, have no action plan yet. Advanced Logic Research Inc., another computer manufacturer based in Irvine, said it does not face any keyboard liability lawsuits and doesn’t anticipate doing anything to head them off.
Most of the liability suits filed against manufacturers are “unfair,” said Dave Kirkey, the company’s vice president for sales and marketing.
“I can’t tell you how to keep that keyboard on your desk or how you should sit or at what distance from the keyboard you should sit,” Kirkey said. ALR might put warning labels on its products or expand its user manuals “if that’s what the attorneys tell us to do,” he said.
James Capretz, a Newport Beach lawyer who has handled a number of product liability cases, said that, though warning labels and manuals are no guarantee against lawsuits, they might help in defending such a case.
“If you’re warned of a danger for a product, then the standard (defense) is, ‘You should have known,’ ” said Capretz, who was involved in winning a $26-million settlement for recipients of potentially fatal artificial heart valves manufactured by Shiley Inc. in Irvine.
“But as an injured party, you might be able to say, ‘I thought it was only keyboards with the warning label.’ ”