♬ “It’s the Most Warningful Time of the Year” ♪

Christmas Tree warningIn 1963, one of America’s favorite crooners, Andy Williams, released a Christmas song entitled “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” that would become one of the standards of the holiday season. Little did he know that by the end of the century, the holiday season would also become the most “warningful” time of the year, too.

How so? Most of the gifts Americans will give to each other during the holidays are plastered with warning labels. In fact, there are often so many warnings that they can’t all fit on the product, so something as simple to use as a fountain pen may come with an “instruction manual” filled with warnings. And many of those labels warn us about things that are such common sense they’re downright wacky.

One of my favorites is a label found on the most popular child’s scooter sold in America. If you look closely, right on the handle bar between the grips it says, “Caution, this product moves when used.” Isn’t that the whole point of a scooter?

There is also a snow sled that warns, “Beware: sled may develop high speed under certain snow conditions.” Now, if you give your child a sled that doesn’t develop high speed when it’s used, you know it probably won’t be used much longer.

And then there is the label that was found on a live Christmas tree. It warned: “Not intended for human consumption!” What?! We can all understand the need for a warning like that on some fruitcakes, but on a live Christmas tree?

Consumer products are now loaded with warnings because product makers know that if they don’t provide them, even if the warning is about something that is common sense, they can be sued by someone who may be injured while using their product. Everyone knows that a scooter will move when a child uses it, but in America, companies are being sued even when their product wasn’t defective.

Virtually all lawsuits filed nowadays over injuries involving a consumer product have a common denominator: they claim the manufacturer “failed to warn” the consumer about a potential danger. So, even if the danger is obvious, the warning is now provided.

What many people don’t know is that these common sense, obvious warnings aren’t nearly as common in other parts of the world. As the host of the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest, I have done scores of radio and TV interviews with reporters in Europe and Asia over the years, and the most common question I get is, “Why don’t we see warning labels like this in our country?”

The answer is that the United States is the most lawsuit-happy society on earth, and these common sense warnings are put on our products to avoid 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.

While there is certainly a place for legitimate lawsuits, excessive litigation has become such an everyday part of life in America that many people don’t notice it anymore. And it’s why the holiday season, in addition to being the most wonderful time of the year, is also the most warningful time of the year.

If judges and lawmakers begin telling plaintiff lawyers with regularity that personal responsibility and common sense still have a place in America’s courts, product makers won’t need to keep putting common sense warnings on their products. Until that happens, we’ll continue seeing labels like the one found on a pair of shin pads used by bikers that warns: “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.”

If you find a hilarious, common sense warning on one of the gifts you receive, send it to us for a chance to win the $1,000 grand prize in our Wacky Warning Label Contest.

The Sticky Legalisms of Wacky Warning Labels

Washington Times 2015 op-edThis op-ed article by the author of “Let’s Be Fair” appeared in the Washington Times on July 3, 2015.

Not too long ago, common sense ruled the day, so called because it was shared by nearly everybody. Common values, commonly understood sense of right and wrong, just and unjust, all expressed in a common language of fairness.

But what’s happened to common sense in America? Our laws, as expressed in opinions by our courts, seem disconnected from the common sense that defined our experience.

Take a look at any of the five labels that have just been named finalists in our 18th annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest.

There’s a warning on a ceiling-mounted smoke alarm that actually says: “Silence feature is intended to temporarily silence the horn while you identify and correct the problem…It will not extinguish a fire.” Really? Someone needs to be told that pushing a button on a device smaller than most cereal bowls won’t put out a fire?

Or take the warning label someone found on a one-inch-tall water-absorbent grow toy that looks like the Easter Bunny. To the amusement of kids across America, it expands when you place it in water. However, read the fine print on the packaging, and you’ll find a warning that says, “This toy is in no way intended to represent living people. Any resemblance is purely coincidental and not intended to harm anyone.” Evidently, someone wasn’t amused by the appearance of the toy.

Countless products are plastered with common sense warning labels today because lawyers have advised product makers that if they don’t provide the warnings, they could be sued. It’s why a popular four-inch-long brass fishing lure with sharp hooks dangling off the end now warns: “Harmful if swallowed.”

That warning was one of our past winners. The owner of the family-run business that made these fishing lures for nearly one hundred years without needing to put that warning on its products told us that they finally decided to provide that warning on the advice of a lawyer. They were informed they could be sued under California’s Proposition 65 law that requires labels on products that contain certain chemicals even though no one in their right mind would try to swallow a fishing lure. Prop 65 has been a bonanza for plaintiff lawyers, but according to experts in the field, there isn’t a single empirical study demonstrating any public-health benefits of Prop 65.

While the fear of being sued over risks that are common sense is relatively new in the long history of our country, reformers have been calling for more common sense in public policy for centuries. In fact, as we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, it’s worth noting that several months before the Declaration of Independence was written in Philadelphia, Thomas Paine published a pamphlet called Common Sense.

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet helped spark the American Revolution by encouraging colonists to rethink the rules by which they were living, and today, it holds lessons about the importance of rethinking the rules of a civil justice system that forces law-abiding product makers to worry about being sued if someone misuses their product.

In the opening paragraph of Common Sense, Paine wrote that “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” In today’s language, what Paine was saying is that it’s easy lose sight of how wrong something is when it becomes an everyday part of one’s life.

Excessive litigation has become such an everyday part of life in America that many people don’t question it anymore. However, these wacky warning labels – which aren’t found in other countries, by the way – should themselves be a warning that it’s time for us to change old lawsuit habits that haven’t served us well. Judges and lawmakers need to tell plaintiff lawyers that personal responsibility and common sense still have a place in America’s courts. When that happens, we won’t need labels like the one found this year on a bag of frozen catfish pieces that warns: “Contains fish.”

Clown Shoes and Lawsuits: One Woman Trips Up

There will be no more clowning around – seriously, NO clowning around – it’s too dangerous!  Or at least that’s what one woman seems to think.

According to a report in the New York Post, a 56-year-old woman who purchased a pair of large clown shoes to wear at a Halloween party is now suing the store that sold her the novelty footwear – and the company that made the shoes – after she fell and injured herself while wearing them.

The report didn’t indicate whether the woman’s lawyer wore a clown costume when filing the lawsuit, but it would have certainly been appropriate.

Of all the words that can used to describe clown shoes, the terms oversized, floppy and clumsy come to mind first.  But the obvious characteristics of her own clown shoes didn’t stop Sherri Perper from finding someone else to blame when she tripped over her feet and allegedly “sustained severe fracture injuries” according to her lawyer.

As the creator of the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest, I am often asked by reporters from other countries why products in America are so often plastered with so many labels that warn us about the obvious.  From now on, I’ll use this lawsuit to help explain why.

The reporters will laugh when I describe this case…until I explain the kind of turmoil and expense this kind of lawsuit can mean to a company like Forum Novelties that has provided jobs to families in New York for 25 years.   It’s time for our courts to stop clowning around and to get serious about eliminating this foolishness.  Too many judges have been tripping over the concept of applying personal responsibility to personal behavior for too long.

Public Safety at Risk: Fear of Lawsuits Changes Common Sense Behavior

frozen-lake-signOne of the things I’d like to do with this blog is share little-known stories about how the threat, reality, and fear of lawsuits has changed America.  I’d also like to ask you to share your stories so we can increase awareness of just how widespread this problem has become.  In my experience, this is one of the most important “quality of life” issues Americans face.

As cold weather’s grip begins to put much of our country into a deep freeze, I would like share a winter-related lawsuit story from my hometown in northern Michigan that I think you’ll find interesting…and disturbing.

This story begins with an odd natural event that occurs in Cadillac, Michigan that is so unusual, it was once featured on the TV show, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.   In this picturesque town of about 10,000, a canal of about a quarter mile long connects two large lakes.  When snow begins to fly, the lakes freeze over, but the canal remains unfrozen all winter.

Snowmobilers who were vacationing in the area and who weren’t familiar with the canal would sometimes get injured when they rode off the ice-covered lake and plunged into the bitter cold water of the canal.  To prevent any more injuries, a volunteer group built a temporary fence on the ice at each entrance to the canal, and they did this for many years.

Then, on a recent visit home, I noticed that the fence was gone, so I called the local newspaper.   A reporter said that the volunteers decided to stop building the fence when were told they could be sued if the fence blew away and a snowmobiler got hurt.

Isn’t this sad statement about how broken the American civil justice system has become?!  The very real threat of being sued has become so widespread and so ever-present that protecting ourselves from lawsuits has taken precedence over protecting the public from very real dangers.   Ripley himself wouldn’t believe it!

Baby Strollers and Legal Reform

Coffee-CupCan a baby stroller that warns parents to “remove child before folding” help save America from drowning in a sea of frivolous lawsuits?

That’s what I wondered in 1997 when I created the Wacky Warning Label Contest and used that stroller warning to help raise public awareness about the litigation problem in America. It’s also what I’m wondering now as I start my first blog.

A blog about lawsuits that people without a law degree will enjoy reading…

The law is a confusing and often intimidating topic. I probably know that as well as anyone in America. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I have spent more than 20 years working with lawyers, debating lawyers on television and radio, and even evaluating the performance of lawyers who have become judges.

I’ve made it my life’s work to peel back the curtain shrouding the legal community in secrecy and mystery. Why? Because the more that non-lawyers know about America’s “whacked out” civil justice system, the more pressure will build on policymakers to put personal responsibility and common sense back to work.

So that’s why I talk about baby strollers.

Virtually everybody has used a stroller at some point in his or her life. If you haven’t pushed one, you were probably pushed IN one. And if you’ve ever seen the folding variety, you know that a child who has been placed in that stroller needs to be removed before the stroller is folded and put away. It’s common sense.

So why does a manufacturer of baby strollers sold in America feel it needs to warn its customers to remove their child before folding the stroller? It isn’t just because people sometimes fail to use common sense. It’s because more and more people who fail to use common sense and then cause an injury are deciding to call a lawyer so they can sue someone.

This is a problem you don’t need to be a lawyer to understand.

And it’s probably why virtually every television network in America, and many of the major networks around the world, have reported on the Wacky Warning Label Contest and used these labels to tell the story of our broken civil justice system.

It’s also why publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal and the National Enquirer have reported on the Wacky Warning Label Contest and commented on what these labels say about our society.

So I will use this blog to continue telling a wide variety of stories that expose how the litigation explosion in our courts has changed life in American, piled costs on consumers and made a mockery of personal responsibility.

This blog will also offer my perspective on lawsuits and litigation-related issues that affect families, charities, communities, job providers and everyone who lives in this great jury pool known as the United States of America.

Hopefully, we’ll make some progress and there will come a day when we won’t need labels like the one we found on a four-inch long fishing lure that warns: “Harmful if swallowed!”

Thanks for checking in here today. I’ll try to make it worth your while to check back again.