The Results Are In: The Latest Wacky Warning Contest

As you know, this is a products liability blog, and we very often writing about product warnings. In so doing, we’ve previously blogged about the annual Wacky Warning Contest sponsored by Bob Dorigo Jones and the Center for America.  Well, the five finalists of the 16th Annual Wacky Warning Contest have been announced, and so of course, we  had to bring that to your attention.

Our favorite of the final five:

“Not for contact lenses or direct use in eyes.”  A warning on a small bottle of spray-on anti-fog cleaner submitted by Melanie Champagne of Raeford, North Carolina.

Not for human consumption.”  A warning on a package of rubber worms made for fishing submitted by Lars Eckberg of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Sometimes, these warnings are prompted by actual events, and we shudder to think who ate the rubber fishing worms.  Yuck.

You can find the full list and accompanying announcement on the website of Bob Dorigo Jones here.

Don’t forget! Way back in July of 2011, we interviewed Bob Dorigo Jones, and you can read the transcript here.

(Hat tip: Overlawyered).

Abnormal Interviews: Bob Dorigo Jones, Founder of the Wacky Warning Labels Contest

Today, we here at Abnormal Use continue our series, “Abnormal Interviews,” in which we conduct brief interviews with law professors, practitioners and other commentators in the field. For this latest installment, we turn to Bob Dorigo Jones, the Senior Fellow for the Center for America, the president of Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, and the author of  Remove Child Before Folding, The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever.   Not too long ago, we wrote about his well known Wacky Warning Labels Contest.  Intrigued, we couldn’t resist requesting an interview, which he was kind enough to grant.

The interview is as follows:

1.  What was your inspiration for the Wacky Warning Label Contest?

In 1997, I heard about a Batman cape that actually came with a label warning, “Cape does not enable user to fly,” and that got me thinking about all of the obvious warnings we see in America. Most people have seen labels like that, and since they’re not only funny, but are there because of lawsuit abuse, we thought it would be a good way to spark a national conversation about the need for common sense legal reform.  It worked, and it’s been a great vehicle for educating the public about the larger lawsuit abuse issue and how it affects everyone from job providers and doctors to the Little League, Girl Scouts and soup kitchens that feed the poor.

2.  You’ve been doing the contest for 14 years.  What has been your favorite label submission from those years, and why?

One of my favorites is a warning label on a scooter that says, “This product moves when used.”  Well, of course, it does!  The manufacturer would probably be sued if it didn’t move.  Unfortunately, accidents often happen when kids are playing, so the manufacturer put this obvious warning on its products because, in America, if you make a product, you’re constantly looking over your shoulder for the next lawsuit. It’s sad, but it’s a fact of life now.  The next time you see one of those wonderful little silver scooters that kids all around America use, look for that label!

3.  Are there any products out there that do not have labels, but should?

I don’t know about products, but there’s a service that definitely needs a warning.  Every ad for plaintiff lawyers that appears in the telephone book or on television should have a label warning potential customers that there are often better (and by that, I mean more effective and less expensive) ways of solving disputes than lawsuits.  Many people who have legitimate grievances or injuries pay tens of thousands of dollars or much more to lawyers for problems that they could solve themselves or through mediation that might cost as little as $100 to $200.

4.  Have you noticed any recent trends in product labeling that you believe litigators should be aware of? If so, what are they?

One trend that troubles me is that labels are becoming so long and filled with so many obvious warnings that many people don’t read them anymore.  Certainly, there are many warning labels that aren’t wacky and that we all need to read, but there are also user guides that are so long that they have to come with a special key section just to explain the warning labels.  The Food and Drug Administration is well-aware of the problems caused by overwarning and therefore goes to great lengths, although they aren’t always successful, to keep warnings on medicines short and to the point.  I think this is wise.  People need to know about dangers that aren’t common sense.

5.  What do you think these labels tell us about our collective mindset in this country, if anything?

After reading all of the labels in this country that warn us about the obvious, people might think Americans are idiots.  I’m not that cynical.  We’re smart people, and by the way, we’re not anymore likely to hurt ourselves using a product than a person in any other country.  However, these labels do tell us that Americans have a litigation problem and that a certain segment of the population is willing to overlook personal responsibility and sue someone else when they injure themselves.  Even worse, a certain segment of the judicial profession is willing to allow these lawsuits in their courts.  My hope, by working with the Center for America, is to increase public awareness of this problem and help create a collective mindset that is unwilling to accept abuse of the civil justice system any longer.

6.  What do you say to consumer advocates and lawyers who believe these types of labels are necessary?

I ask them why there isn’t any evidence that Americans are better off for all of these warnings.  People in other advanced, industrialized countries like Germany, France, Japan and Australia aren’t being warned like we are that a scooter moves when used, but they aren’t piling up injuries faster than we are.  How do I know?  Because reporters from those countries have come here regularly to interview me and have told me so.  They don’t understand why we put up with the lawsuits that lead to these obvious warnings.  So where’s the benefit?  The only ones benefiting are the personal injury lawyers who now make so much money that they can run ads on TV all day long when legitimate product makers can’t even afford to do that.

Beyond that, I say to the so-called consumer advocates and personal injury lawyers that America is worse off today because of all of the fear they have created in our lives.  Many product makers have refused to bring consumer-friendly products to market because they fear being sued.  This is true in many areas, but it is worst in the area of medicine.  The long warning labels they’ve made necessary on drug packaging are bad enough, but when a mother dying of cancer has to leave her children to go to another country to get medicine that’s not available here because of America’s litigation problem, we have to say, “Enough is enough!”

7.  What do you believe is the best – or the funniest – pop culture depiction of a product label or products liability issue?

One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen is a spoof commercial for a product called “Happy Fun Ball” that aired on “Saturday Night Live” several years ago.  It has a warning that takes up about 90 percent of the commercial and is probably where America is heading if we don’t get a handle on our lawsuit problem.  If you’ve never seen it, I would highly recommend it. Also, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read about frivolous lawsuits was written by a former producer at “Saturday Night Live.”  James Percelay wrote a book called Whiplash! that is the first book you should get after you buy Remove Child Before Folding, The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever!

BIOGRAPHY: Bob Dorigo Jones, who serves as Senior Fellow for the Center for America, is the author of the bestselling Remove Child Before Folding, The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever. He is the host of a new national radio/Internet commentary, “Let’s Be Fair.” He has also appeared on dozens of national and international TV and radio programs, including NBC Nightly News, ABC News’ 20/20, BBC WorldNews, FOX News, and CNBC.  He also serves as president of Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW), a Center for America partner organization. Prior to joining CFA and M-LAW, Dorigo Jones served on the staff of the Michigan House of Representatives. He received a B.A. in economics and political philosophy from James Madison College at Michigan State University.

Wacky Warning Labels Finalists–A Commentary on the State of Affairs in Products Liability Law

Last week, we heard an NPR story about a Wacky Warning Label Contest put on by a man named Bob Dorigo Jones, a Senior Fellow at the Center for America.  According to its website, the Center for America’s mission is “to educate, motivate, and empower Americans to expand skills, entrepreneurship, prosperity and freedom.”

The contest works like this:  People submit entries for the product warning labels which “entertain[] and alarm[] the nation about the lawsuit-happy culture and the lengths to which companies must go to avoid lawsuits.”  People can venture online and vote for their favorites, and there are even cash prizes for the contest winners.  We here at Abnormal Use like the concept of this contest: highlighting the ridiculous lengths to which manufacturers must go to protect themselves from lawsuits, and to protect people from their own lack of common sense.

For instance, here is one of the finalists:

You can view all of this year’s finalists here.  The contest has been going on for fourteen years.  Some information about the 2010 contest can be found here.  The winners of the 2011 contest will be announced in June.  We can’t wait, and we’ll be sure to let you know which warning label wins.  In the meantime, we’d like to hear your thoughts about the most absurd warning labels you’ve encountered, either as a consumer or legal professional.

The Wackiest Warning Labels of 2012

In the summer of last year, we blogged about the Center for America’s Wacky Warning Labels Contest – a contest which, in the words of the Center’s own words, “reveal[s] the excesses of civil liberty.”  These are labels that assume mankind has no common sense.

Well, 2012 was no different for the Center for America. Once again, its loyal devotees submitted warning labels for the contest, and the “wackiest” have now been chosen.  Here is the winner of the 2012 contest:

Well, I suppose I must remove my globe from my car’s dashboard!  A complete list of the Wacky Warning Labels contest is here.

In other navigation news, several news outlets have reported that Australian police are warning users of Apple Maps, a feature of the newest iPhone, that following its directions can be life-threatening.  Really?  Yes.  Apparently, people using the feature to find Midura, Australia are directed not to the small town, but 40 miles away to a remote part of Murray-Sunset National Park in the Australian Outback.  This is no small sort of error.   Temperatures can reach more than 100 degrees, and there is no water source in the park.  Several travelers were rescued by the police.  On the bright side, it appears that the iPhone gets great cell service in the Outback.

Perhaps while Apple is scrambling to fix its widely criticized maps application, we can come up with an adequate warning to help in the case of an unanticipated detour:  “Warning:  Use of This Maps Application Can Be Life Threatening.” “Objects on Map are Further Than They Appear.”  “Make Sure to Carry Plenty of Food and Water When Using Navigation System.” “Beware of Crocodiles.”

Maybe we’ll see some of those in next year’s contest.

The Case of the Killer Toothbrush

Every so often, I read a news story about a lawsuit that makes me think I’ve inadvertently stumbled onto the satirical publication The Onion.  This is one of those stories.

According to this report by CBC News out of British Columbia, a woman named Saliha Alnoor is suing the Colgate-Palmolive Company for injuries she sustained when her toothbrush allegedly broke in two places in her mouth, slicing her gums and causing her to lose consciousness.

Alnoor apparently hired an engineer, who has done extensive testing on the toothbrush and determined that it contains a design defect that caused the brush to break.  Despite this damning would-be testimony, however, Alnoor is now representing herself against the company, in what her family describes as a “David and Goliath” battle.

After initially complaining to Colgate, the company sent her a $20 coupon.  Later, when she became particularly serious about her claims, the company offered to settle her case for $500.  Can’t you just smell the fear?  It smells oddly like mint.

This is one case we’re going to have to watch.  I wonder what Wacky Warning Label might come out of this case.

Abnormal Interviews of 2011

As readers of this site are aware, we here at Abnormal Use occasionally publish interviews with law professors and practitioners on products liability and litigation. In 2011, we published a total of 18 such interviews – a bit more than the eleven we published last year, our first year of existence. Today, we list all of our 2011 interviews and provide links back to them:

Jeff Richardson of the iPhone J.D. blog (January 11, 2011)
Michael Sardo, Producer of USA’s TV Show, “Fairly Legal” (January 18, 2011)
Catherine Sharkey of New York University (March 7, 2011)
James Daily and Ryan Davidson of The Law and the Multiverse Blog (March 8, 2011)
Robert W. Cort, Carolyn Shelby and Christopher Ames, Makers of the 1991 Film, “Class Action” (March 15, 2011)
Larry D. Thompson, Author of “The Trial” (March 28, 2011)
Brian Dale Alle Strouse of The Lawsuits, a band (April 4, 2011)
Ted Frank of the Center for Class Action Fairness (April 25, 2011)
Adam Avery, Brewer of Collaboration Not Litigation Ale (May 3, 2011)
Jennifer Wriggins of the University of Maine School of Law (May 5, 2011)
Mark-Paul Gosselar and Breckin Meyer of “Franklin & Bash” (May 31, 2011)
Chuck Brodsky, Songwriter (June 7, 2011)
Megan Erickson of The Social Networking Law Blog (June 29, 2011)
Bob Dorigo Jones, Founder of the Wacky Warning Labels Contest (July 14, 2011)
Ernest Svenson a/k/a Ernie The Attorney (July 20, 2011)
J. Stanley McQuade of Campbell University School of Law (August 10, 2011)
Tamara Piety of The University of Tulsa (August 23, 2011)
Mark Waid of Marvel Comics (September 20, 2011)

As 2011 draws to a close, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank the individuals listed above for being kind enough to grant the interviews. We think our site is all the better for it. And, if you missed any of the interviews, take a look!