Allocation of Blame for Property Damage Originating in a Cigarette Receptacle Constructed from Flammable HDPE

  • Michael J. KalsherEmail author
  • Hayley McCullough
  • William G. Obenauer
Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing book series (AISC, volume 821)


Human factors and Ergonomics (HFE) researchers have systematically investigated how people allocate responsibility in product liability cases in which people have been seriously injured or killed. Previous research has shown how blame is assigned in a broad range of user injury contexts and to an array of potentially blameworthy entities. We extend this research to investigate allocation of blame for an incident involving substantial property damage, but no user injuries or deaths. Participants read a realistic scenario based on an actual product liability case in which a warehouse sustained more than one-million dollars in damage from a fire that originated in a receptacle designed for disposal of lit smoking materials (e.g., cigarettes) positioned near the building. The scenario systematically varied quality of the product warning (original manufacturer’s warning vs. a more comprehensive redesigned warning) and whether the manufacturer and the product’s distributor lied or did not lie to purchasers and end-users (smokers) about design limitations of the receptacle. Overall, the pattern of results from the property-damage scenario closely mirrored previous research involving serious injury or death. Consistent with previous research in this area, the product manufacturer received significantly less blame when it provided a redesigned warning about the product’s hazard. Interestingly, given the more comprehensive warning, blame was shifted disproportionately away from the manufacturer and toward the purchaser, not the other entities. Candor on the part of the manufacturer and distributor—when these entities provided accurate information—resulted in less blame assigned to them compared to when they either withheld this critical information or provided information that was misleading. Consequently, these findings add to the growing body of evidence indicating multiple benefits of safety.


Warnings Safety Allocation of responsibility Product liability Misleading 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Kalsher
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hayley McCullough
    • 1
  • William G. Obenauer
    • 1
  1. 1.Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA

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