Wacky Warning Labels Show Toll Of Frivolous Lawsuits

Thanks to the Washington Examiner for publishing my recent op-ed about this year’s Wacky Warning Label Contest.  We have had a record number of requests for radio interviews since it was published and have received widespread coverage on television news reports.  Tune in to Stossel on FOX Business News next Thursday, June 14 at 9:00 pm EDT for a special segment about the contest and America’s litigation problem.

For the past fifteen years, the Center for America has held a nationwide contest to see who could find the most outrageous, hilarious warning label in America.  We have done this for two reasons.  First, it’s just plain fun to see how many labels there are around the home and office that warn us to exercise common sense — such as the warning on a fishing lure that says, “Harmful if swallowed.” (I didn’t even know fish could read.)

Second, it has become an eye-opening way to learn about the burden on product-makers in the most lawsuit-happy society on earth. For today in America, warning labels must protect not only consumers from genuine danger, but also producers from frivolous lawsuits by those who ignore common sense and get hurt while using their products.

With personal injury lawyers lurking around the corner and advertising on every daytime television show, manufacturers are constantly looking over their shoulders in anticipation of the next lawsuit.  There is a lawsuit filed every two seconds in America. Manufacturers know that they are just a trip, poke or spill away from being sued at any moment. This is why we see warning labels like these three finalists in our 15th annual Wacky Warning Label Contest that were announced this week:

– A label on an electric razor for men warns “Never use while sleeping.

– A neck pillow developed and marketed specifically for children warns: “Keep product away from infants and children.”

– An electric skillet warns:  “Caution: griddle surface may be hot during and after cooking.”

These aren’t urban legends — they’re real.  For years, we’ve been talking about these labels on radio shows, and people often say these warnings are so crazy that they don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  However, over the past year, we’ve been hearing something new.  Now, more and more people are not just laughing or becoming exasperated, they’ becoming so alarmed by warning labels that they’re not using the products they bought.

One woman told me her mother bought several heating pads and later returned all of them to the store because each one warned: “Caution, Risk of fire.”  She was genuinely concerned that her house might burn down because the heating pads would ignite a fire. Silly? Perhaps, but it happens more often than you might think. We also hear more serious stories from people who haven’t used medicine prescribed by their doctor because of alarming warnings on the packaging.

In too many costly instances, consumers are making the choice to avoid potential risk despite the fact that these products make life better and safer.

There is something terribly wrong with that, and it can be traced directly to the climate of fear that our courts have fostered by refusing time and time again to dismiss frivolous lawsuits.  There are now so many costly lawsuits in the U.S. that one respected think tank has calculated that Americans would save $589 billion every year if our tort costs were simply comparable to those of other industrialized countries.

There is certainly a place for legitimate product liability lawsuits. But we also need judges and policymakers to give personal responsibility and common sense a place in our courts again.

Imagine if all the money we’re now spending on excessive litigation was spent on job creation or innovation instead. It would give our economy a tremendous shot in the arm at a time when it is desperately needed.  And of course, we might not need warning labels like the one on a scooter that says, “This product moves when used.”

That’s pretty funny, but we’ll trade jobs for laughs any day.

America’s Wackiest Warning Labels Selected In 15th Annual Contest

The internationally recognized Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest, now in its 15th year, has just announced the Top Five finalists.   They are:

An electric razor for men that warns “Never use while sleeping.” Sent in by Dave Woehrer, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

A 7-inch decorative globe that comes with the warning: “These globes should not be referred to for navigation.”  Sent in by Kelly Watson, Winona, Texas

A “Laptop Steering Wheel Desk” that cautions: “Never use this product while driving.”  Sent in by Anne Readett,  Okemos, Michigan.

A Neck Pillow made for children that warns: “Keep product away from infants and children.”  Sent in by Noelle McDonald, San Jose, California.

An electric skillet that warns:  “Caution: griddle surface may be hot during and after cooking.”  Sent in by Jason Ellis, Fowlerville, Michigan.

I started this contest, now sponsored by the Center for America to reveal the extraordinary lengths to which manufacturers who sell products in the United States must go to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits – and to start a national conversation about the need for reform.

In the days and weeks ahead, that conversation will intensify as word of the latest wacky warning labels spreads, and we will be talking about these labels on radio shows, on television and in various publications, blogs and websites.  One thing people have said since the first year we did this is that these warnings are so crazy they don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I agree completely.  However, there is something new that we’ve been hearing lately that I would like to focus on this year.

Now, more and more people aren’t laughing about the warnings…they’re becoming so alarmed by warning labels that they’re not using the products they bought.

Here’s an example.  One woman told me her mother bought several heating pads and later returned all of them to the store because each one warned: “Caution, Risk of fire.”  She was genuinely concerned that her house might burn down because the heating pads would ignite a fire.  Silly? Perhaps, but it happens more often than we may think.  We also hear more serious stories from people who haven’t used medicine prescribed by their doctor because of alarming warnings on the packaging.

In too many costly instances nowadays, consumers are choosing to avoid potential risk despite the fact that the products they purchased could make life better and safer.

That is a travesty, and it can be traced directly to the climate of fear that our courts have fostered by refusing to dismiss frivolous lawsuits in too many cases.  There are now so many costly lawsuits in the U.S. that the Pacific Research Institute has calculated that Americans would save $589 billion every year if our tort costs were simply comparable in size with other industrialized countries.

It’s time for America to get serious about ending lawsuit abuse that makes common sense warning labels necessary.  To learn more about how much lawsuit abuse costs consumers and to see photos of all the products in this year’s wacky warning label contest, click here.

Smokers Who Want To Be Ex-Smokers Get Good News From FDA Regarding Prescription Drug

Here’s some good news for smokers seeking to kick the habit — and bad news for plaintiff lawyers hoping to use junk science to hit the lawsuit lottery.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released two studies that strongly indicate that smoking cessation drug Chantix is no more likely to cause adverse side effects than other accepted nicotine replacement therapies.

Plaintiff lawyers who jumped the gun once again and filed numerous lawsuits against Pfizer, the maker of the prescription drug, will undoubtedly be hoping the media ignores this story.  We’re hoping they don’t, and we’ve have made it the focus of our recent radio commentary broadcast across the country.

The two studies, one conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the other by the Department of Defense, found no evidence of an increase in hospitalizations for psychiatric reasons in Chantix users compared to nicotine patch users.

The Bloomberg news service reports that:

The Veterans Affairs study included 14,131 Chantix users and an equal number of nicotine replacement therapy users. Sixteen Chantix-treated patients were hospitalized for psychiatric reasons compared to 21 in the replacement therapy group.

The Pentagon studied 11,978 Chantix users and an equal number of replacement therapy patients. Patients on Chantix were hospitalized 18 times for psychiatric reasons compared to 16 times among replacement therapy patients.”

Undoubtedly, the plaintiffs’ bar will produce their own study or studies to try to mislead the media, the courts and juries, but the FDA is the only objective party whose results can and should be trusted.

The problem with America’s legal system is that it allows plaintiff lawyers to file unfounded lawsuits against medical providers and pharmaceutical companies even when there’s no scientific evidence to support them.  These lawyers believe they can mislead juries with emotional stories based on highly speculative and unproven theories.

Judges must now do their job and refuse to let these lawsuits move forward.  Otherwise, manufacturers and health care providers face years of expensive litigation with the possibility of a massive verdict.  That would potentially rob Americans of safe and effective medical treatment and strike yet another blow to the nation’s struggling economy.

Media Coverage Of Contest Raises Public Awareness of Need For Legal Reform

What a week it’s been for our Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest and supporters of common sense legal reform!

After the Associated Press published a story about the contest on Tuesday morning, we started receiving calls from all over the country and around the world.  The first televised report appeared on FOX News, then we did a segment for radio with NPR’s Robert Siegel for “All Things Considered,” and then it seems like just about every other media outlet in the U.S. covered the results of the contest (see below).

The worldwide media coverage of the Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest drives the personal injury lawyers and their allies bananas, so we know we’re really onto something here.  The AP story included a quote from a spokesperson of one of the trial bar’s favorite “consumer” groups, but true to form, she steadfastly refused to admit what everyone else in America knows – lawsuit abuse has gotten out of control, and these labels are needed on products to protect manufacturers from frivolous lawsuits.

While most folks know what a huge problem excessive litigation has become in America, the extent to which these lawsuits pile costs on consumers and rob us of safe and useful products and services is not nearly as well know.  So, we use the media attention this contest generates to spark a national conversation about how the litigation explosion in our country has hurt families and communities.

After we talk about the wacky labels on the radio and TV, we use the opportunity to reveal how everyone from the Girl Scouts and Little League Baseball to job providers and health care professionals has been negatively affected by lawsuit abuse.  If not for this contest, millions of voters and potential jurors around the nation would never hear, for example, that the U.S. spends more than twice as much on tort costs as other advanced nations around the world.

However, because of this contest, the word is getting out.  In an op-ed published today by the Washington Examiner, we used the contest as a platform to report that if U.S. tort costs were simply comparable in size with other industrialized countries, a whopping $589 billion would be saved for investment in new jobs and consumer spending every year.  Imagine what an economic stimulus that common sense tort reform would provide for our country!

In June, a live studio audience on John Stossel’s show on Fox Business News will select the grand prize winner from the five finalists in our contest.  Of course, John will cover the lawsuit problem in depth, too, just as he did so well last year.  We’ll remind you to tune in as the date gets closer!

America’s Wackiest Warning Labels Selected In 14th Annual Contest

The internationally recognized Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest, now in its 14th year, has just announced the Top Five finalists.   They are:

“Does not supply oxygen.” A label on a common dust mask.  Submitted by Alex Saenz of Dallas, Texas.

“Warning:  Avoid Drowning.  Remove safety cover from spa when in use.” A label on an outdoor hot tub cover.  Submitted by Archer Leupp of Peshtigo, Wisconsin.

“Warning:  The action depicted in this brochure is potentially dangerous.  The riders seen are experienced experts or professionals.” Found in a bicycle brochure with pictures of small children riding their bikes.  Submitted by John Nevin of Holt, Michigan.

“For gun only, not a functional day planner.” A label on an advertisement for a leather handgun holder designed to look like a daily planner.  Submitted by Cheryl Keyes of Westborough, Massachusetts.

Warning:  Pen caps can obstruct breathing.  Keep out of mouth.” Instructions that came with a ballpoint pen.  Submitted by Mark Stutzmann of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I started this contest, now sponsored by the Center for America, in 1997 to reveal the extraordinary lengths to which manufacturers who sell products in the United States must go to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits – and to start a national conversation about the need for reform.  Over the years, we’ve found some outrageously common sense warnings, but this year, the pen cap warning does something more than make us laugh, it tells a story.

That warning was found in an instruction manual printed in four different languages: English, Spanish, German and French.  Each translation included the same instructions and warnings…except for the warning about swallowing the cap.  Why would the warning about keeping the pen cap out of one’s mouth be printed only in English?!

Surely, people in other countries are as prone to swallowing a pen cap as Americans.  Yes, but there’s one thing that doesn’t happen in other countries, even the English-speaking countries of England and Australia: lawsuit abuse.  The makers of the pen make that painfully obvious in their instructions.  If someone in the U.S. swallows a cap from one of their pens, they might be sued, but they won’t be sued anywhere else.

It’s time for America to get serious about ending lawsuit abuse that makes common sense warning labels necessary only in the United States.  To learn more about how much lawsuit abuse costs consumers and to see photos of all the products in this year’s wacky warning label contest, click here.

School District Decides To Remove All Swing Sets After Too Many Lawsuits

Once again, we see children losing a favorite activity because personal injury lawyers can’t resist the urge to sue a school.

This time, a lawyer in West Virginia sued the Cabell County school district after a child was injured while using a swing set at one of their schools.  The district settled the lawsuit for $20,000 and is worried about more lawsuits, so they are removing all swing sets from all the schools there.

The safety manager for the school district was quoted in the Huntington Herald Dispatch saying, “In talking with our lawyers about this issue, they told us we might as well pull out our checkbooks if we’re going to continue using mulch around swing sets.  These types of lawsuits are apparently occurring around the country.”  See the full story here.

It wasn’t long ago when schools were on the leading edge of safety efforts if they put mulch around swing sets.  Mulch is softer than the regular old ground human beings have been landing on for centuries when jumping off swings.  But nowadays, injuries that have been part of life since the invention of the swing are simply fodder for trial lawyers trying to make a buck at everyone else’s expense.  The plaintiff lawyers argue the landing area should have been softer, but it seems that no matter what schools do, the landing area is never soft enough.

Unfortunately, the real losers here are the children.  They can’t vote and don’t write letters to the editor, so they’ll have to find something else to do rather than swing on a swing set at recess.  We’ve seen this with community swimming pools, Little League baseball, parks and recreation areas run by local governments, and even the Girl Scouts are not immune from the lawsuit epidemic.  Folks, this is all about quality of life – are we really better off with all these lawsuits?  Of course not.

Fortunately, the rest of us can speak up and try to make sure that swing sets don’t vanish from the schools our own children attend.   What can you do?  How about ask your candidates for legislative and judicial seats how they feel about this issue.  Do they support reasonable limits on lawsuits?  Do they accept contributions from trial lawyer associations?

I’ve debated presidents of state trial lawyer associations many times, and never –not once — have they admitted there is a problem with frivolous lawsuits in America.  I wonder where they’ll be when the swing sets are being removed from schools in Cabell County.  Probably filing another lawsuit.