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What is a General Disclaimer?

By Amanda Dean
Updated May 16, 2024
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A general disclaimer is a legal statement that describes the purpose, use, or limitations of a product, service, or media. The purpose of a general disclaimer is to absolve the product, service, or content provider of liability in the event of a lawsuit. A disclaimer is often used in the place of a formal contract—it serves as a warning regarding relationship, rights, and responsibilities of any involved parties. If the general disclaimer is a document, it must be available to all parties for review. In some cases, a general disclaimer may be a written or verbal warning, such as a black box found on chemical or medication bottles.

Many websites include a general disclaimer that indicates the purpose of the content. They may also notify the viewer that the material is protected by copyright law. Most sites on the Internet are designed for informational or entertainment purposes and do not claim to offer expert advice. Disclaimers on the web may indicate that the website does not guarantee the accuracy or timeliness of information provided. Blog and web forum visitors may be notified with a disclaimer that content on the site is provided by outside sources and may not reflect the views of the organization that administers the website.

Some products carry a general disclaimer that improper use may be hazardous. This limits liability in the event that the the product causes harm when used in a way that was not intended by the manufacturer. If the product is defective or otherwise causes harm under use as directed, the company may be litigated. If it can be demonstrated that the consumer ignored the general disclaimer and did not follow instructions, however, the individuals would have a more difficult case. For example, if a consumer suffers breathing problems from using spray paint in an enclosed room despite the instructions, he would probably not win a lawsuit against the paint's manufacturer for damages.

“Actual results may vary” is a common general disclaimer. This means that the product may not cause the advertised or desired result, even with strict adherence to the directions for use. For example, someone who takes an over-the-counter diet medication cannot sue if he fails to lose weight following the product's directions. This does not limit liability in the event that other bodily harm comes from proper use of the product, such as health problems as a result of taking a diet medication.

Popular entertainment media on the Internet and informational television programs often give general disclaimers preceding their content. The statement can be as simple as “Viewer discretion is advised." Individuals who ignore the general disclaimer abandon their legal grounds in the event that attempts to replicate content proves to be harmful. For example, parents would not be able to sue an educational science program, its cast, or broadcast network for damages to their children who had attempted to duplicate a dangerous experiment. Most programs with potentially dangerous content indicate that the actors in the program are trained professionals and include a general disclaimer of "Do not try this at home."

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