Heeding Presumption Law and Legal Definition

Heeding presumption means a presumption that if the manufacturer of a product had given a warning label then the consumer of such product would have followed the warning. In other words, a heeding presumption allows the fact-finder to presume that the person injured by product use would have heeded an adequate warning, if given. Therefore, a heeding presumption shifts the burden of production from the plaintiff to the manufacturer, who must rebut the presumption by proving that the plaintiff would not have heeded a different warning. It is a rebuttable presumption.

The heeding presumption applies to all failure to warn and inadequate warning cases and provides the plaintiff with a rebuttable presumption on the issue of proximate cause, i.e., if a warning or instruction had been given, such warning or instruction would have been heeded by the plaintiff. In such cases, the burden of production on the issue of proximate cause shifts to the defendant to come forward with rebuttal evidence. In essence, the defendant's burden of production requires evidence sufficient to demonstrate that a warning would have made known to the plaintiff the danger of the product and, notwithstanding the knowledge imparted by the warning, the plaintiff would have proceeded voluntarily and unreasonably to subject him/her to the dangerous product.

In Sharpe v. Bestop, Inc., 314 N.J. Super. 54 (App. Div. 1998), the court observed that “The only burden shifting stemming from the heeding presumption is with respect to the burden of production. Once the heeding presumption comes into play, the burden of coming forward with evidence, i.e. the burden of production, shifts to the defendant to overcome or rebut the presumption. The defendant's failure to produce evidence at this stage risks a directed finding against it on the issue of proximate causation. If, however, the defendant satisfies its burden of production, that is, if defendant presents sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption, the presumption disappears and the plaintiff, consistent with his original burden of persuasion, must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the failure to warn was a proximate cause of his injury. If the defendant fails to produce sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption, the plaintiff is relieved of proving proximate causation.”