waterloggedipodThere are a lot of things you can learn by dropping your iPod into a bucket of water. The first thing is pretty obvious: electronic devices and water don’t mix well. The second thing is that the old “put-the-device-in-a-bag-of-rice-until-it-dries-out” trick doesn’t always work. However, if you wait long enough, you might also learn something about the American legal system…even if you were perfectly willing to accept responsibility for your waterlogged iPod.

A few years ago, our youngest son accidentally dropped his iPod into a bucket of water, so I’m not talking hypothetically here. We took it to the Apple store to see if it could be fixed. It couldn’t, and since it was our fault, we accepted it as one of those unfortunate things that happen in life. Case closed.

At least, I thought it was closed, but a lawyer somewhere decided that anyone who had an iPod that stopped working because it got soaked should be paid. He filed a class action lawsuit against Apple. Anyone who took an iPod to Apple for water damage during a certain time period was automatically included as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Now, Apple’s warranty clearly states that an iPod will not be replaced if it is damaged by water or other liquid, so I think the lawsuit should have been dismissed.  That apparently makes too much sense, however, and Apple was forced to rack up huge legal bills as it fought to defend common sense.  Eventually, as the case dragged on, the company decided to cut its losses and settle the case as so many other job providers are forced to do these days.

Not long after that, we received a check in the mail for over $100.  It was our share of the settlement money in a lawsuit we’d never heard about.  I didn’t want the money under those circumstances, though.  Even if Apple is making more money than virtually any other business in the world, fair is fair.

Unfortunately, after going to a website created to answer questions about the class action lawsuit, I learned that if I sent the check back, it wouldn’t go to Apple. Instead, it would go to one of these five groups:

  • Center for Auto Safety
  • Consumer Federation of America
  • Consumers Union
  • National Association of Consumer Advocates
  • National Consumer Law Center

The Center for Auto Safety?!  Why should it get any of this money? It makes no sense. However, it does have one thing in common with the other groups – it’s a darling of the trial bar.  You see, in more and more class action lawsuits these days, the trial lawyers aren’t the only ones who get a big pay day; groups they support that often file lawsuits against job providers can also win big, too.

How’s that for gaming the system?  Under rules approved by the judge, if I returned my check, it could very well go to funding another lawsuit against a company that had done nothing wrong.

Phooey on that. So, considering my options, I did what I thought was best.  I went straight to Apple and bought another one of their products, spending twice as much as the amount of my check and further adding to their record profits.

Do you have a story of class action lawsuit abuse, too?  If so, share it with us. Working together, we’ll increase public awareness of how this scam is making a mockery of personal responsibility in American courts.

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vaccine needleIt’s almost impossible to turn on a TV news program these days without hearing about the growing Ebola crisis, but did you know there’s another infectious disease now spreading across America at a record rate? I bring this up for a couple of reasons: 1) many people aren’t aware of it even though it has serious public health ramifications, and 2) it’s partly rooted in an abusive lawsuit that went terribly wrong, and this blog was created to raise public awareness about how abuse of the civil justice system is affecting our lives.

The disease is measles, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been three times more cases of measles reported in 2014 than in any year since the disease was thought to have been eliminated in the US.

The obvious question is, “Why?” Don’t we have a vaccine for measles?

The answer is, yes, there is a vaccine, and it’s why measles was virtually eliminated in the United States 14 years ago.  However, something very disturbing happened around that time that many experts believe is largely responsible for the return of measles and other infectious diseases like whooping cough and chicken pox to our communities.

In 1998, a medical researcher working on behalf of lawyers suing vaccine makers manufactured evidence that he thought would help them win the case and bring them huge amounts of money.  To bolster the lawsuit, he claimed that he had found 12 children that developed autism after receiving vaccines.  The news spread like wildfire, and all of a sudden, many parents began to question whether they were doing the right thing by having their children vaccinated.  Some of them decided not to.

What they didn’t know, however, was that there was a big problem with the research.  That problem wouldn’t be revealed until 2011 when the British Medical Journal published a blockbuster report that showed the supposed “research” that sparked that fear about vaccines was fraudulent.  According to the Journal, “three of the 12, it turns out, had never been diagnosed with autism and others displayed symptoms long before they received vaccines.”

Daniel Fisher, writing for Forbes, pointed out at the time that the fraudulent research was tailor-made for litigation. “Science designed to serve the courtroom.” I highly recommend his column.

In the years since then, some news outlets have reported on the comeback of infectious diseases – like Time magazine did in this March, 2014 article — and have cited parents’ fears over vaccines as a major reason for the dramatic rise in these diseases.  However, in general, they have done a poor job of reporting why those fears arose in the first place and that the reason for those fears has been exposed as a fraud.

Dr. Paul A. Offit, the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is one of the leaders in the medical community who is working to set the record straight.  He says dozens of studies have exonerated vaccines as a cause of autism, but too many people are unaware of these studies.  In his book, Deadly Choices, How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, he delves deeply into other frauds that have been perpetrated and the terrible effect they have had on public health.

Many now fear that if the media doesn’t start reporting on this litigation-fueled fraud, more and more people will decide to forgo vaccinations because they only know half the story.  In the meantime, infectious diseases that we once thought were eradicated will continue to spread. Last year, US News & World Report revealed that in 2012, “the United States had the highest number of whooping cough cases since 1955” resulting in 18 deaths.

This is an epic tragedy considering all of the technology and medical research available today. As Paul Harvey would have said, it’s time for the rest of the story to be told.

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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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The Stella Awards and Frivolous Lawsuits

by bobdorigojones 03.28.2014

Ever 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 […]

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The “Horse Sense Fence” Offers Humorous Commentary On Life In America

by bobdorigojones 02.25.2014

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 […]

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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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