Vanderbilt Law Review


Thomas H. Lee

First Page



This simple statement, which represents a patriotic imperative ' for some Americans and a simple declaration of measurable observation for others, potentially plays havoc with products liability warning law. Products liability law, a byproduct of both common and statutory law, has developed state by state in a crazy quilt pattern across the country; although the states are virtually unanimous on broad doctrines, they have taken a Balkanized approach to details. Today, every jurisdiction recognizes that product manufacturers and sellers have a duty to warn consumers and users adequately of the inherent dangers associated with their products. This recognition, however, does not obscure the utter confusion regarding adequate warning requirements. Most warning cases revolve around this confusion, which has become a doctrinal morass that is detrimental both to the growing number of Americans who speak English poorly and to the entrepreneurs who market to them.

On a societal level, the statement "Americans speak English" is perhaps best understood as a tautology. This view implies that people who do not speak English are not Americans. The tautology, how- ever, ignores twentieth-century American statistics: more than thirty- one million Americans do not speak English at home. More than ten percent of the citizens of seventeen states, which contain nearly half of the United States' total population, speak a language other than English at home. If all the Americans who speak Spanish at home lived in a single state, it would be the third most populous state in the country. In many of the largest cities in the United States, more than twenty percent of the population does not speak English at home, or at all. These statistics explain why non-English newspapers, television stations, and radio stations comprise a rapidly growing market for readers and advertisers."