Wacky warning labels show toll
of frivolous lawsuits
May 29, 2012 becoming exasperated -- they’re becoming so alarmed
by warning labels that they’re not using the products
Bob Dorigo Jones they bought.
For the past 15 years, the Center for America has held One woman told me her mother bought several heat-
a nationwide contest to see who could find the most ing pads and later returned all of them to the store
outrageous, hilarious warning label in America. We because each one warned: “Caution, Risk of fire.” She
have done this for two reasons. First, it’s just plain fun was genuinely concerned that her house might burn
to see how many labels there are around the home down because the heating pads would ignite a fire. Sil-
and office that warn us to exercise common sense -- ly? Perhaps, but it happens more often than you might
such as the warning on a fishing lure that says, “Harm- think. We also hear more serious stories from people
ful if swallowed.” (I didn’t even know fish could read.) who haven’t used medicine prescribed by their doctor
Second, it has become an eye-opening way to learn because of alarming warnings on the packaging.
about the burden on product makers in the most In too many costly instances, consumers are making
lawsuit-happy society on Earth. For today in America, the choice to avoid potential risk despite the fact that
warning labels must protect not only consumers from these products make life better and safer.
genuine danger but also producers from frivolous law-
suits from those who ignore common sense and get There is something terribly wrong with that, and it can
hurt while using their products. be traced directly to the climate of fear that our courts
have fostered by refusing time and time again to dis-
With personal injury lawyers lurking around the miss frivolous lawsuits. There are now so many costly
corner and advertising on every daytime television lawsuits in the United States that one respected think
show, manufacturers are constantly looking over their tank has calculated that Americans would save $589
shoulders in anticipation of the next lawsuit. There is billion every year if our tort costs were simply compa-
a lawsuit filed every two seconds in America. Manufac- rable to those of other industrialized countries.
turers know they are just a trip, poke or spill away from
being sued at any moment. This is why we see warn- There is certainly a place for legitimate product liability
ing labels like these three finalists in our 15th annual lawsuits. But we also need judges and policymakers
Wacky Warning Label Contest that were announced to give personal responsibility and common sense a
this week: place in our courts again.
• A label on an electric razor for men warns: “Never Imagine if all the money we’re now spending on exces-
use while sleeping.” sive litigation were spent on job creation or innovation
instead. It would give our economy a tremendous shot
• A neck pillow developed and marketed specifi- in the arm at a time when it is desperately needed.
cally for children warns: “Keep product away from And of course, we might not need warning labels like
infants and children.” the one on a scooter that says, “This product moves
• An electric skillet warns: “Caution: griddle surface when used.”
may be hot during and after cooking.” That’s pretty funny, but we’ll trade laughs for jobs any
These aren’t urban legends -- they’re real. For years, day.
we’ve been talking about these labels on radio shows, Bob Dorigo Jones is senior fellow at the Center for
and people often say these warnings are so crazy that America and author of the best-selling “Remove Child
they don’t know whether to laugh or cry. However, over Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wacki-
the past year, we’ve been hearing something new. est Warning Labels Ever.” www.CenterForAmerica.org
Now, more and more people are not just laughing or