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Remove Child Before FoldingThe 101 Stupidest, Silliest, and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever
By Bob Dorigo Jones
WARNER BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Robert B. Dorigo Jones
All right reserved.
IntroductionHave you seen any good warning labels lately? Of course you have. They're almost everywhere you look.
From the moment in the morning when you raise your head off a pillow bearing that famous Do Not Remove warning tag, to the second you drop back in bed at night, you are bombarded with warnings. And a special form of warning label, the wacky warning label, can now be found on all kinds of consumer products.
There are sleeping pills that warn, "May cause drowsiness" and fishing lures that caution, "Harmful if swallowed." Why do we have to be warned about the obvious? Has the United States become a nation of idiots? Do we really need to be told not to fold our children in their strollers?
A few years ago, NBC Nightly News did a report on wacky warning labels. Tom Brokaw offered this explanation for why wacky warning labels have become part of our national landscape: "Somewhere in America right now, an untold number of people are on the phone to their lawyers ... saying, 'Sue 'em. 'We are the world's most litigious society, tying up courts, companies, and each other with lawsuits. And it has given rise to a whole new form of literature, the warning label."
That's right. Fear of outrageous lawsuits causes product makers to cringe. And after they're done cringing, these productmakers often put labels on the things they manufacture to warn us of the most obvious things. They do this in the hope that if one of their customers does something stupid or clumsy with the company's product, like eating the toner in a printer cartridge, that customer won't sue.
James Percelay, a former writer/producer for Saturday Night Live and bestselling author of Whiplash! America's Most Frivolous Lawsuits, has explained the reason for these wacky warning labels in a way everyone can understand: "It used to be when someone spilled hot coffee in their lap they called themselves clumsy, today they call themselves a lawyer."
The lawsuits those lawyers file are expensive, even if they never go to a jury trial. Lawyers can file a lawsuit and often settle the case for $10,000, $50,000, and $100,000 or more without ever going before a jury because the company doesn't want to pay the even larger legal bills it would accrue defending itself, even when the company is innocent and the lawsuit has no merit. The following lawsuit against the McDonald's fast-food company illustrates the problem perfectly.
A few years ago, a hungry motorist decided to make a pit stop at a McDonald's drive-thru window. After wedging his chocolate milk shake between his legs and placing his burger and fries on the seat next to him, he resumed his journey. When he leaned over to reach for his fries he inadvertently squeezed his legs together, causing the cold shake to leap out of its cup and onto his lap. Stunned, he then plowed his car into the vehicle in front of him.
The unfortunate motorist who was on the receiving end of this mishap was not sympathetic. He sued the hungry driver as well as McDonald's. The plaintiff's attorney (the lawyer for the guy who was hit) argued that the fast-food franchise neglected to warn customers of the dangers of eating and driving! In making his ruling, the judge did one thing right and one thing wrong. Fortunately, he did dismiss the lawsuit. However, he dropped the ball when he denied McDonald's request to be reimbursed for the $10,000 in attorney's fees to defend itself against this ridiculous lawsuit. In the judge's words, the lawyer who sued the restaurant was, "creative and imaginative and shouldn't be penalized for that."
That, in a nutshell, is why we have so many wacky warning labels. Many lawyers today feel there is no downside to suing someone, because few judges use existing laws that require penalties for those who file frivolous cases. Too many courtrooms have turned into free-for-alls where anyone can attempt to cash in on jackpot justice.
People who make things-whether a lawnmower, a dishwasher, a wheelbarrow, a ladder, or a beverage-know they can be sued by anyone at any time. Even if they win the lawsuit, the companies could spend tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars protecting their reputation. Worse, they realize if they get the wrong judge or a bad jury, the person who sued them could hit the "lawsuit lottery" at the product maker's expense. In an effort to protect themselves, these product makers slap all sorts of wacky, outrageous, and often unintentionally hilarious warnings on their merchandise.
Warning! Reading This Book May Cause You to Laugh Hysterically
Despite the obvious humor, your basic sense of what's right and what's wrong may leave you struggling with whether to laugh or cry. It's hard to resist chuckling when you hear that there is actually a warning label on a Christmas tree that reads: "Not intended for human consumption." On the other hand, you may get a little hot under the collar when you read that someone who caught his teeth in a basketball net while dunking later sued the manufacturer and received $50,000 because he wasn't warned that teeth and basketball nets don't go particularly well together. Maybe the warning on the net should have read: "Not intended for use as dental floss."
This book may prompt scores of Americans to consider going to law school so they can become judges who will crack down on the problem of society's frivolous lawsuits. If so, we'll consider this book a public service. Or perhaps it will just provide you with a lot of good laughs. If that's the case, we'll be happy, too.
As Seen on TV ... These Warnings Are Real
Over the years, wacky warning labels compiled each year by our consumer group, M-LAW, have been featured on news programs on the major television networks in America. The cable news programs love them, too. One of the first questions the shows' producers ask is whether we have seen these labels on actual products. The answer is always yes, but after you read this book, you'll understand why they're skeptical. Some of the labels sound so crazy you might think they are just urban legends.
For the record, M-LAW has verified the authenticity of every label that appears in this book. So when John Stossel was preparing his first story on our wacky warning labels for ABC's popular 20/20 program, we were able to send him every product label he requested. And before Lou Dobbs reported on CNN that a scooter used by youngsters across the United States carries the warning, "Product moves when used," his producer saw it first on our Web site. If we don't see the warning on a product, we don't include it.
This book provides further evidence that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
Warning Labels You Won't See in This Book
The warning labels in this book represent a small fraction of the labels that have been sent to M-LAW by people nationwide. For our contest, we do not accept warning labels that consumers really need, or that warn against dangers that aren't obvious.
Here's an example of a label we turned down for M-LAW's contest. A bottle of PMS Midol contains a very funny label that warns against using the product if you have an enlarged prostate. You don't need a medical degree to know that if you have a prostate, you aren't going to have premenstrual sydrome, and vice versa. However, there's always the chance some guy out there will get such a bad headache that he'll use anything to get rid of it-even his wife's Midol. Consequently, that warning label needs to be there.
Another label on a tube of toothpaste made specifically for children warns: "Keep away from children." Huh? There are cute little cartoon characters on the casing, and it has the words "Children's Toothpaste" right on the tube. How are my kids going to use this product if I have to keep it away from them? However funny this is, M-LAW didn't include this in our contest because some children, when left alone with a tasty tube of toothpaste, will eat it like candy, and the danger of ingesting too much toothpaste isn't common knowledge.
How M-LAW's Wacky Warning Label Contest Started
Long before the Wacky Warning Label Contest became an annual event, the first winners were selected by the host of a popular program on one of the country's largest radio stations, WJR AM-760 in Detroit. The first year of M-LAW's contest, 1997, was the only year the winners were selected by the radio host, not the audience. For that contest, the top three winners were selected live, on the air, from a list of M-LAW's ten "finalists," by host Mitch Albom and his two cohosts, Rachel Nevada and Ken Brown. Incidentally, the label Mitch selected was found on a hair dryer and read: "Warning: Do not use while sleeping."
Beginning in 1998, M-LAW added a new twist by letting the radio audience pick the winners of the annual contest. Today, National Radio Hall of Fame personality Dick Purtan lets his huge audience on Oldies 104.3, WOMC, select the wackiest labels from a list of finalists compiled by M-LAW. After M-LAW reads the top five entries, Purtan's listeners call the station to vote for the wackiest label. Money prizes are given to the individuals who send M-LAW the three winning labels.
Each year, the grand-prize winner receives a check for $500 and a copy of the best-selling book The Death of Common Sense by Philip K. Howard (though it would probably be more appropriate to award a copy to those who file the kind of frivolous lawsuits that make wacky warning labels necessary).
Philip Howard has also made one of the most astute observations about what wacky labels will reveal to future generations of Americans about our lawsuit plagued society: "Archaeologists a thousand years from now will dig up our remains and give us a name: Instead of the Age of Reason, we'll be the Age Without Reason. Our amused descendants may not figure out that seesaws disappeared from playgrounds in a fit of legal frenzy, and they may not realize that lawsuits made doctors paranoid and made it difficult for teachers to run a classroom. But what they'll see, in plain language, are the warning labels on every product. They'll really wonder about the coffee. What did we mean by warnings on practically every cup about its being extremely 'hot'? Was coffee some kind of aphrodisiac?"
You can now judge for yourself. What do you think the following 101 wacky warning labels will prompt your descendants to think about life in America during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?
Excerpted from Remove Child Before Folding by Bob Dorigo Jones Copyright © 2007 by Robert B. Dorigo Jones. Excerpted by permission.
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