♬ “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.”

Announcing The Finalists In Our 18th Annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest

WWL15_Smoke_Alarm_Warning_CFAThe five wackiest warning labels of 2015 have just been announced as part of the Center for America’s 18th annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest. They are:

• A label on a ceiling-mounted smoke alarm that warns: “Silence Feature is intended to temporarily silence the horn while you identify and correct the problem…It will not extinguish a fire.” Submitted by Charlene Fairleigh, Eugene, Oregon)

• A warning on a one-inch tall water-absorbent grow toy that looks like the Easter Bunny that says: “This toy is in no way intended to represent living people. Any resemblance is purely coincidental and not intended to harm anyone.” Submitted by Jacob Eckberg, Hopewell, Virgina

• A label on a patio door that cautions: “Door may swing open or closed in windy conditions. Door could hit person causing injury.” Submitted by Elizabeth Stout, New Orleans, Louisiana

• A label on a bag of frozen catfish pieces that warns: “Contains fish.” Submitted by James Andrews, College Station, Texas

• A warning at a bowling alley that says: “Bowl at your own risk. Risk of bodily injury is associated with this game.” Submitted by Conor Friedersdorf, Venice, California

We find these silly warning labels on products sold throughout America because, in this era of excessive litigation, labels must do more than protect consumers from possible injuries, they have to protect product makers from frivolous lawsuits.

Tune in to John Stossel’s show on FOX Business News Friday, July 24 to see which labels earn the three cash prizes. The winners are selected by Stossel’s studio audience, and the grand prize winner receives $1,000!

When Expectant Mothers Have No Safe Place To Turn

Read the following description of the appalling conditions that expectant mothers have to deal with in one city, and try to guess where it is:

“Once you get to the few remaining hospitals in the city who will do OB/GYN, you better hope there’s a bed open for you.  Otherwise, you might be delivering in the emergency room…because the labor and delivery unit’s full, overflowed…patients in the hall waiting.”

Port-au-Prince, Haiti? Mogadishu, Somalia? Perhaps some other third-world city hit by a natural disaster?

It’s Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, this was how one doctor described the situation at the Philadelphia hospital where he now works after years of skyrocketing costs for liability insurance and the constant threat of lawsuits have prompted doctors to leave the state and retire in droves.  Twenty maternity units in the greater Philadelphia region have closed, leaving almost literally “no safe place to have a baby.”  And what of emergency situations, which many women face during pregnancy?

It gets worse.  Much worse.

And whether you live in Pennsylvania or a state like Georgia or Illinois where the courts are overturning medical liability reforms enacted by the legislatures to bring stability to their health care systems, or even if you live in a state where the plaintiff lawyers are just starting to push again for more ways to sue doctors, you need to see and hear this story.

Click here now to see a short video in which mothers and fathers, doctors and midwives and others talk about the deplorable state of health care in one part of Pennsylvania hit hardest by the lawsuit crisis, Philadelphia.

For the past twenty years, I’ve been researching the negative impact that excessive litigation has had on life in America, and this is the most troubling and most unbelievable story I’ve seen.  I’ll have much more on this in the days and weeks ahead.