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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Abraham LincolnEvery 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.” I don’t believe I have ever addressed this topic here, so I’d like to do so as briefly as possible.

My answer to that question is always short and to the point: Absolutely not. I have no interest in seeing lawyers go away and, in fact, have a lot of good friends who are lawyers.  We need lawyers.

Any lawyer worth his or her salt can tell you that Shakespearean quote is usually taken out of context.  The character in the play making that comment is plotting a rebellion and thinks it would be easier without any lawyers around to muck up his plans.  Therefore, taken in context, that line is really about the importance of having lawyers around to maintain a civil society.

There’s a great analysis of that quote and what it really means on this website, but just to keep things from getting too serious here, I’d like to share my favorite part of that analysis. It’s the last line, and it goes:

“As long as there are lawyers, there will be ‘lawyer jokes.’ And lawyers will show how those jokes ring true by trying to explain how such lampooning really constitutes praise for their profession, thus by example justifying the jokes more than ever.”

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.

When I make my case for the idea that America would be much better off if we didn’t sue each other so often, I often use a quote from the man many regard as one of the most honest lawyers this country has ever produced: Abraham Lincoln.

In remarks he prepared for his fellow lawyers, this is what Lincoln had to say on the topic of suing someone:

“Discourage litigation.  Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.  Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser – in fees, expenses and waste of time.”

What wonderful advice!  Certainly, as Lincoln proves, one does not need to be anti-lawyer to believe that there are often better ways of resolving conflicts than by hauling someone into court.  Lincoln was a respected litigator, so his advice on avoiding lawsuits means a lot.  More Americans need to be aware of this, and I thought it would be good to bring it up now as we mark the two hundred and fifth anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.

In closing, I would like to mention who originally brought that Lincoln quote to my attention.  It was another highly respected lawyer, former United States Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. He believes America has a lawsuit problem, too, and many years ago, he helped me kick off a grassroots effort to eliminate lawsuit abuse. He said he thought I might be able to use that quote someday, and boy, was he right!

So there you have it.  Two of America’s greatest lawyers saying we need fewer lawsuits in America. I rest my case.

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footballAnother football season has come to a close and, whether we like it or not, the focus of the sport will now shift from touchdowns and goal-line stands to what can be done to prevent more concussions and, ultimately, preserve the game in America.  And, in my opinion, that’s where the focus should be now.

Violence in football is a serious issue, and changes are needed in the game for the good of the players. Much has been written about the need to reduce injuries, especially head injuries, but it’s worth noting that excessive violence is not a new issue in football. As the NFL and other leagues wrestle with this issue, it would do them well to look back at how football dealt with this problem at the turn of the twentieth century.

It may come as a surprise to many, but more than a hundred years ago, football was nearly banned because of carnage on the gridiron.  I learned about this after reading an excellent article on the subject in the monthly magazine, Imprimis, published by Hillsdale College.  In “Football and the American Character,” John Miller reveals that in 1905, eighteen people died playing football.  As he put it, the deaths…

“were not freak accidents as much as the inevitable toll of a violent game. And they horrified a group of activists who crusaded against football itself—wanting not merely to remove violence from the sport, but to ban the sport altogether. At the dawn of the Progressive era, the social and political movement to prohibit football became a major cause.

Calls for the game to be outlawed came from major newspapers like the New York Evening Post as well as leaders in higher education, including the president of Harvard.  At the time, college football was the primary game in town when it came to the sport, and Harvard was one of the powerhouses.

However, the president of the United States at that time, Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to save football. Roosevelt was such a big fan of the game that he had gone out of his way to recruit football players when he put together the Rough Riders in 1898.  He believed football helped build character and was intent on saving it for future generations.

So, at the end of the grisly 1905 season, he brought together a group of reform-minded leaders in the sport to push for new safety rules, and they did just that.  According to Miller,

“football experienced an extreme makeover: The yardage necessary for a first down increased from five to ten. Rules-makers also created a neutral zone at the line of scrimmage, limited the number of players who could line up in the backfield, made the personal foul a heavily penalized infraction, and banned the tossing of ballcarriers. These were important revisions, and each was approved with an eye toward improving the safety of players.

Their efforts greatly reduced injuries and even led to the creation of an organization that we know today as the NCAA.

I find this story fascinating, not just because I experienced more than my fair share of concussions while playing football in high school, but because of the fact that this entire controversy took place out of a courtroom.  There were no lawsuits. There were just highly motivated and creative leaders who came together to solve a major problem without being forced to by a judge.

Now, I know that lawsuits are a fact of life in America today and are sometimes needed to bring about change.  However, I don’t think it is naïve to believe that the leaders in the game can take a page out of Teddy Roosevelt’s playbook and implement changes where changes are needed. Americans pride ourselves on being a self-governing people, and the current situation in football is a prime opportunity to show the world that we still have the ability to, pardon the pun, tackle this major issue before we are forced to by a judge.

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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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Taxpayers Foot Bill For Federal Lawsuit Against Residential Complex For The Hearing Impaired

by bobdorigojones 11.24.2013

According to a report on FOX News, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has filed a lawsuit against a residential complex in Arizona that was built specifically to house the hearing impaired claiming that the complex discriminates against non-hearing impaired people. As if that isn’t crazy enough, HUD originally helped fund the project […]

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Law School Professors’ Union Accuses Dean Of Satanic Pay Raises

by bobdorigojones 11.17.2013

A union representing professors at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law recently filed an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the school over pay raises of $666 that were given to some of the professors. The professors, who prior to being granted the pay raises had organized a collective bargaining unit at the college, say the dean […]

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