Teens DrivingYou don’t have to be the parent of a teenage driver to have a special interest in any device that would make it impossible to use a cell phone while driving, but if you are, you’ll definitely want to know about this story. I strongly suspect it will also be of great interest to anyone who occasionally texts while driving and knows they should stop.

I fall into both of those categories, so I was especially intrigued to learn recently about a former engineer for NASA who has invented what many safety experts believe is the “holy grail” solution to distracted driving. I was also bothered (but not surprised) to hear why it’s not on the market after getting tremendous support from several key allies in this effort.

Scott Tibbitts is the engineer/entrepreneur who has worked on this amazing “gadget” for the past five years, and he and his company were recently featured in an article in the New York Times.  It’s a captivating story, beginning with his inspiration for ending cell phone-related distracted driving.  Tragically, a business executive with whom he was scheduled to meet one day in 2008 was killed hours before their meeting by a teenager who was texting while driving.

We all know that using a cell phone while driving can be extremely dangerous, and stories like that are too common.  In fact, every day, nine people die on American roads because of someone who has been distracted by texting, talking or emailing on a cell phone.  According to another story in Newsmax:

An estimated one in five crashes occurred through distracted driving, and 69 percent of drivers in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 said they talk on their cell phones and 31 percent say they read or send text messages or email while driving, according to the CDC. This includes nearly half of all U.S. high school student drivers.

Safety experts have long searched for the perfect solution to this problem, but so far, the cell phone apps that have been created to stop distracted driving are not widely used and the state laws that have been passed to motivate drivers to do the right thing are regularly ignored.

So, when Tibbitts was able to find a way to use a “telematics” port found in all cars manufactured since 1996 to shut down phone use when a car is moving, he quickly drew the attention of these experts.  However, it was the attention and support he drew from some in the insurance and cell phone industries that led many to believe his device might finally be the perfect solution.

Tibbitts was able to convince insurance giant, American Family Insurance, to invest a significant amount of money in his venture.  He also got Sprint to allow his company to use its networks to stop texts.  It was the first time this had happened, so it looked like everything was lining up perfectly for the device to be brought to market.

Unfortunately, just when all of the technological hurdles were cleared, an old, familiar problem popped up to keep it off the market: lawsuit fears.

As the Times reports, Sprint executives worried about:

“what would happen if the technology let one text slip through, and someone reading the message became involved in a crash. That could be a financial liability for the company, and a tragedy. ‘If that one message does get through, and someone understood, “I bought this and I’ll be safe,” what does that mean for our brand and our business?’” said a vice president for business and product development at Sprint.

A spokesperson for Sprint now says: “It’s a matter of working out the legal issues. The legal uncertainty — that’s the major issue.” So far, the daunting legal hurdle is the only one they haven’t been able to clear.

It’s certainly not the first time that legal concerns have robbed American consumers of a wonderful product, but it is especially disturbing to hear that once again, an amazing invention could potentially save three thousand lives a year and prevent more than 300,000 injuries is stalled in its tracks because of lawsuit fears.

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IMG_1182…a label found on a cell phone battery booster.  It warns: “Get rid of children.”

What?? Is that a mistranslation, or is there something else going on with that label? I provide the inside story on that in an op-ed posted today on Townhall.com.

That label was selected as the grand prize winner of the Center for America’s 17th annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest by a studio audience during a recent taping of Stossel on the Fox Business Channel.  Congratulations to Larry Klein of Costa Mesa, California who won $1,000 for finding that label and sending it to us.

Second place and $500 was awarded to Mark Lengel of Novi, Michigan for a warning he found on a football helmet.  It warns: “No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death.  To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”

That might not be as wacky as some of our previous winners like the warning on a baby stroller that says: “Remove child before folding,” but it was included as a finalist this year because it underscores how whacked-out the American civil justice system has become. Manufacturers now feel that they have to warn their potential customers to consider not buying their product despite the fact that it is tested and proven safe!

The third place prize of $250 went to Tim Weibel of Grand Island, New York. Tim found a label on a sheet of peel and stick decals he received from the Buffalo Bills. The decals look great on bike helmets, skateboards and scooters, but the label warns: “Decals are for decoration only and will not prevent you from any bodily harm or injury.”

Ever since announcing the winners on John Stossel’s show, we have been doing interviews around the country to: 1) have a laugh at the expense of the personal injury lawyers who make these labels necessary, 2) explain how the fear of being sued for injuries they didn’t cause is forcing product makers to put these common sense labels on their products, and 3) to reveal how the cost of all of these lawsuits has become a burden on American consumers and our economy.

Sometimes, we don’t know whether to laugh or cry when we see these warnings, but they help us raise public awareness of the litigation problem in America and get people talking about potential solutions.

Do you have a wacky label on a product lying around your house?  Keep your eyes peeled, because it could be our next $1,000 grand prize winner!

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WWL14_DecalsThanks to the Washington Times for publishing my op-ed (below) about the five finalists in this year’s Wacky Warning Label Contest.  The three cash prize winners will be selected by John Stossel’s studio audience later this month on FOX Business News.

Americans love sports. We also love our sports teams.  And to show our team spirit, we proudly wear the logos of our favorite teams on everything from jerseys and caps to pajamas and socks.

Sadly, too many Americans also love lawsuits.  We are the most litigious society on earth.  And for 17 years, we’ve held the Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest to showcase the lengths to which manufacturers have to go to avoid those lawsuits.  A lot of the labels in our contest have been found on sports equipment, and this year, one of the “five finalists” in our contest was found on a sheet of decals given out to fans of the Buffalo Bills.  You won’t believe what it says.

The sheet of decals was part of a promotional gift package that Bills’ fan, Tim Weibel, received from the team. The package suggests putting the decals on bikes, bike helmets, skateboards and scooters. The decals are fun, colorful and come in a variety of sizes.  But they also include this warning in the fine print: “Decals are for decoration only and will not prevent you from any bodily harm or injury.”

Now, really. You don’t say.

This label is unfortunately typical of warnings today.  In the era of excessive litigation in America, product makers must constantly guard against being sued for not warning their customers about even the most obvious things. It’s one reason a pair of shin pads for bicyclists carried this warning a few years ago: “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.”

Add to that fear of being sued the growing number of concussion-related lawsuits against professional football leagues and equipment makers, and one can begin to understand why such a warning might exist on decals that can go on a bike helmet.  Well, almost.

One of the other finalists in our contest this year was found on an actual football helmet. “Wacky” might not be the best adjective to describe the label, but it definitely describes the legal atmosphere that prompted the helmet manufacturer to provide this warning to its customers: “No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death.  To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”

That’s right, we are now at the point in America where product makers feel they must advise their customers and potential customers to consider NOT buying their products. Some people blame manufacturers for being overly cautious with these warnings, but it would be more appropriate to blame a civil justice system that has moved too far away from the age-old concept of personal responsibility.

The sad fact is that we can no longer rely on the judicial system to always assign responsibility where it belongs, so we wind up with warnings like the one found on another finalist in our contest this year, an ink cartridge for a printer.  Clearly printed on the package, the manufacturer of a small cartridge measuring no more than 2.5 inches by 1.5 inches warns: “Do not drink.”

While there is certainly a place for legitimate lawsuits, the number of tort lawsuits in America dwarfs the number of tort lawsuits filed in any other country in the world when taken as a percentage of the national economic output. In the United States, the amount of the Gross Domestic Product that goes to tort costs is 2.2%. That’s twice what it is in Germany (1.1%) and nearly three times what it is in Japan (.8%). The United Kingdom and France spend even less on tort costs than Japan.

Call us wacky, but we think it’s time for judges and policymakers to give personal responsibility and common sense their rightful place in our courts again and to eliminate the “lawsuit tax” imposed on American consumers because of excessive litigation.

The real issue is not the obvious warning labels, but the billions of dollars in litigation costs being passed on to consumers.

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RV Senior Man - Thumbs UpEver heard the story about the guy who sued Winnebago over its cruise control? According to the story, he set the cruise control while driving and then left his seat to brew some coffee.  Of course, he crashed.  And, as the story goes, he was mad that the instructions didn’t warn him not to do this, so he sued.

If you’ve heard about this, you’re not alone.  It’s part of a viral email note about six or seven crazy lawsuits that received the so-called “Stella Awards.”  The names and personal information about the  “winners” change from time to time, but the circumstances always stay the same.

People forward this email to me many times a year, and I just got it again yesterday from some good friends.  The awards are named after the woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s.  Her name was Stella Liebeck, and I’m sure that whoever started this award named it after her because if there is one lawsuit that everyone in America has heard about, it’s her infamous case.

The problem is, all the stories are fake.  That’s right, they’re urban legends.  It’s easy to believe them, though, because so many real lawsuits are just as outrageous.

A few years ago, a writer based in Colorado by the name of Randy Cassingham decided that he’d seen this fictitious email note one too many times and started a website to debunk the Stella Awards email note.  He eventually wrote a book called the True Stella Awards that highlighted outrageous lawsuits actually filed in courts around the country. It’s an entertaining and eye-opening read, and if you would like to get it, here’s where you can find it.

Of course, there are a lot better places for information about how junk lawsuits are affecting America than through phony emails.  This blog is just one, and some of the ridiculous lawsuits we have highlighted include:

• the law professors who sued the dean of their school over pay raises they claimed linked them to Satan,

• the federal government’s lawsuit against a home for the hearing impaired that the government helped build (HUD claimed it housed too many hearing impaired people), and

• the woman who sued a four-year-old over a bike accident.

Some of my other favorite sources for information about ridiculous lawsuits include Overlawyered.com, PointOfLaw.com and CenterForAmerica.org.  The blog roll on the right side of this page lists many more great sources of information about lawsuits in America.

So, the next time you see the Stella Awards email note, remember to check back here.  The lawsuits you will find us talking about on this blog and on the websites I just mentioned prove that truth is often stranger than fiction.

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Horse Sense Fence 2

The wacky warning labels found on products sold throughout America have been fodder for this blog for years, but did you know that wacky warnings have now found their place in contemporary art, too?  Let me tell you about Shey Hembrey and the Horse Sense Fence.

Shey Hembrey is one of the most creative artists in America today.  One of his projects attracted so much attention that he was invited to give a TED talk about it, and that’s how I heard about him and his fence.

Hembrey came up with an idea to stage an innovative exhibition that would feature the art of one hundred talented artists.  Staging such an event is a lot of work, but that wasn’t a big enough challenge for Hembrey.  He decided that he would invent 100 fictional artists for his exhibit, and then he personally created 100 wildly different pieces of art – one for each of “his artists.”

The Horse Sense Fence is one of those creations.  The fence involves a common barbed wire fence, but it is different than any other barbed wire fence you’ve ever seen.  Every single barb carries a large pink label that says: “Warning: Sharp!”

In addition to creating the art, Hembrey developed a story for each artwork, and his artist describes Horse Sense Fence as “a commentary on how overcoddled our society has become.” Gee, and we thought we were the only ones to recognize this!

Now, nobody likes to be called overcoddled, but when Hembrey revealed the fence during the TED talk, the audience absolutely loved it.  In fact, it appeared to get the biggest reaction of any of his pieces of art.  You can see his talk here.

As the creator of the Wacky Warning Label Contest, I’m pretty sure why the TED audience loved the warning-filled Horse Sense Fence so much.  The most effective humor is rooted in reality, and the audience knew that common sense warnings are everywhere in America today.

The great philosopher, Plato, taught his students that art imitates life.  I can think of no better example of that than the Horse Sense Fence.

Photo is courtesy of Shey Hembrey.

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Great Advice From Abraham Lincoln On The Topic of Suing Someone

by bobdorigojones 02.10.2014

Every once in a while, usually during radio interviews, I must address the issue of whether the effort to end lawsuit abuse in America is really an anti-lawyer effort.  Sometimes the host will add to that question by quoting a famous line written by Shakespeare: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” […]

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When Football Gave America A Lesson In Problem Solving

by bobdorigojones 02.05.2014

Violence in football is a serious issue, and for the good of the players, some changes are needed both in how the game is played and how it is managed. Much has been written about the need to reduce injuries, especially head injuries, and it will be better if the changes happen sooner rather than […]

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You Know Those Ubiquitous “Prop 65” Warnings? They May Be Worthless

by bobdorigojones 01.24.2014

Can you get cancer from handling an indoor extension cord, a fishing lure, or a wooden match? If you read the label on those and hundreds of other products that carry what is known as the “Prop 65 warning,” you might have a serious concern about that. However, a researcher in California has some good […]

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School Officials Settle Sex Abuse Lawsuit for $700,000, But Students Still At Risk

by bobdorigojones 12.06.2013

Parents have enough to think about these days without having to worry about whether their children will be assaulted in school by a classmate who is a known sex offender.  However, a recent case in Seattle unfortunately reveals that this is definitely a danger in some places.  Whether your child or a student you know […]

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Campus Police Officer Who Pepper-Sprayed Students Gets Bigger Payout Than Students

by bobdorigojones 12.03.2013

A former University of California police officer who made international news two years ago by pepper-spraying a group of student protestors as they sat before him has just been awarded $38,000 after suing the university for workers’ compensation. John Pike was a lieutenant on the UC Davis police force and was trying to break up […]

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