Annual Contest Reveals What Wacky Warning Labels Say About America

There is a scene in the new “Finding Dory” movie by Pixar that shows a baby stroller with a label that warns not to fold the stroller before removing the child from it. Funny, for sure, and very familiar.  An observant movie-goer in the Chicago area knew immediately that the warning wasn’t simply a tongue-in-cheek joke concocted by Pixar, so she wrote to tell us about it.

It’s a real warning label featured in our popular Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest several years ago, and it just so happens that the movie recently debuted on the same day the winners of our 19th annual contest were announced.

ww16_lightsaberWarning labels that caution consumers about obvious, common sense things have become as much a part of life in America as the ever-popular Disney and Pixar movies. Of course, that’s where the comparison ends, but if you look around you, an argument could be made that wacky warnings are a more ever-present part of our life than any movie by any studio.  When’s the last time you saw a movie? Now, when’s the last time you saw a warning label? How about this morning!

If you counted every warning label you saw from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, the labels would certainly include warnings on bathroom products, kitchen appliances, your car, bus, train, office products, and things you find in your garage. And some of them are downright silly. Have you ever looked at the silver scooter your kids or grandkids use (or which you used as a child, depending on your age)? Right there on the handlebar between the grips is a warning that says: “This product moves when used.” Really!

The Center for America, a non-profit organization that sponsors the contest each year, does so to highlight how our lives are changing by living in the most lawsuit-happy society on earth.  Labels like these are put on things all around us because product makers and retailers know if they don’t put these warnings there, they can be sued. Even if we already know what they’re warning us about.

One year, the makers of a popular wood router were sued by a man in Texas after he decided to use a tool meant for carpenters on his teeth and didn’t like the results. Now, he obviously should have known not to use a wood router to perform dental work. And the courts should have immediately dismissed his lawsuit. But that didn’t stop his lawsuit from moving through the courts and becoming a real pain for the product maker. That’s why the product user guide provided to consumers who purchased that wood router would later feature a new warning: “This product is not intended to be used as a dental drill.” Ugh.

The wackiest warning label of 2016 was found on a toy Star Wars lightsaber.  It says: “For Accessory Use Only. Not to Be Used as a Battle Device.”  Susannah Peate of Carmel, Indiana picked up the grand prize for sending that one to us.

Behind all of this humor is a serious point.  The lawsuits that are clogging our courts are piling costs on consumers and hurting our economy.

A study that compared America’s tort system with other countries revealed that if U.S. tort costs were comparable in size with other costs in other industrialized countries, we could save $589 billion per year for investment in new jobs and consumer spending.

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.  Just think if all the money we’re now spending on excessive litigation was spent on job creation or innovation instead. It would give a tremendous boost to our economy. Of course, we might not need labels like the one on a fishing lure that warns, “Harmful if swallowed,” but we’ll trade jobs for laughs any day.

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♬ “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.

America’s Wackiest Warning Labels Announced In 16th Annual Contest

The internationally recognized Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest, now in its 16th year and sponsored by the Center for America, has selected the 2013 FINALISTS! The top five finalists are:

“Wash hands after using.”  A label on a common indoor extension cord submitted by Jeff Dudka of Commerce Township, Michigan.

“Not for contact lenses or direct use in eyes.”  A warning on a small bottle of spray-on anti-fog cleaner submitted by Melanie Champagne of Raeford, North Carolina.

Not for human consumption.”  A warning on a package of rubber worms made for fishing submitted by Lars Eckberg of Knoxville, Tennessee.

“Company will not be held responsible for any illness or injury that is incurred while using the pedometer.”  A label on a commonly used pedometer submitted by Justin Smith of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“Combustion of this manufactured product results in the emissions of carbon monoxide, soot and other combustion by-products which are known by the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.”  A warning on a box of matches submitted by Ira Stoll of Brooklyn, New York.

Three of this year’s finalists are warnings placed on common products as a direct result of more stringent requirements in California about posting warnings when certain chemicals are present, which sounds fairly reasonable until you dig into the issue.  But there is always more to the story when it comes to these wacky labels.

Focused on Prop 65 in California, the current law lists 774 chemicals for which product makers, sellers and employers must place specific warning signage – and that list includes aspirin, shower curtains, coffee, alcoholic beverages, fishing lures, luggage, cars, and countless other products used safely by consumers every day.  The Prop 65-mandated warnings in our contest this year were found on the extension cord, rubber worms and matches.

It’s been well-reported that Prop 65 has given rise to an avalanche of so-called ‘drive-by lawsuits’ enabling attorneys to file hundreds of cases that provide little if any public safety benefit, but drive up costs and threaten jobs.  This is not a California-only problem, however, as we live and work in a national stream of commerce which affects everyone in America.  The products that are sold in California are manufactured in all 50 states, so this means that the shake-down Prop 65 lawsuits that are filed each year threaten jobs all across America.

Hilarious and thought-provoking past winners of our contest include:

  • “Remove child before folding” – on a baby stroller!
  • “Does not supply oxygen” – a label on a common dust mask (2011 Contest Winner)
  • “Never operate your speakerphone while driving” – on a hands-free cell phone product called the “Drive ‘N’ Talk”! (2010 Contest Winner)
  • “Not for use on moving vehicles” – the warning on the “Off-Road Commode,” a portable toilet seat that attaches to a trailer hitch!
  • “Danger:  Avoid Death” – a warning on a small tractor!
  • “Harmful if swallowed – a warning on a  brass fishing lure with a three-pronged hook
  • “This product moves when used” – a warning on a popular children’s scooter!

Last year, results of the Wacky Warning Label Contest reached more than 190 million Americans via international media coverage.

Deadline For Entering 15th Annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest Is May 15

Last call for your outrageous warning labels!

If you have seen a funny, common sense label on a product and want to enter it in our 15th Annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest, you still have time. But hurry…the deadline for submitting your label is May 15.

Over the past 15 years, hundreds of millions of people around the world have laughed at these labels and learned just how far manufacturers must now go to write product warnings that will hopefully protect them from a lawsuit.  Warnings like:

–       A label on a scooter for children that says: “This product moves when used”

–       A label on a fishing lure that cautions: “Harmful if swallowed,”


–       A label on a baby stroller that warns: “Remove child before folding.”

The five finalists in the contest will be announced later in May, and the lucky people who send us those labels will compete for three cash prizes.  The $1,000 grand prize winner will be selected by John Stossel’s studio audience on FOXBusiness News in June.  Last year, the audience gave the top prize to Alex Saenz of Dallas, Texas for a label he found on a dust mask that warned, “Does not supply oxygen.” Really!

The rules for the contest, sponsored by the Center for America, as well as how to enter via email, can be found here.

We must be able to verify that the label isn’t an urban legend, so take a good picture of the label and the product, and send it to us today.  We’ll take it from there and contact you if your label makes it to the round of finalists. Some of our favorite winners from years past were entered just days before the deadline, so there’s still time.

The Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest has been featured on virtually every major television network, in the nation’s largest newspapers, and has even made it into the Congressional Record because it’s a fun contest with a serious point.  Even though we love laughing at these hilarious labels, we’re hoping that some day, product makers won’t have to worry about the kind of frivolous lawsuits that make these warnings necessary in America. Until then, send us your labels!

Remembering Those We Met At The World Trade Center Ten Years Ago

As we mark the tenth anniversary of the senseless terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, our thoughts turn to those who were taken from us that day, the heroes who prevented even more tragedy from taking place, and those who put themselves in harm’s way so they could aid the survivors.

My thoughts also turn to several people I met in the World Trade Center a couple of weeks before the attack.  We had been invited by ABC News’ 20/20 to film a story about the Wacky Warning Label Contest in New York City, and we spent the day doing interviews in a vacant store in the mall beneath the twin towers.  Sadly, it would turn out to be the last video footage filmed in the World Trade Center for national television.

The producers at 20/20 had decided to set up tables in this landmark location so they could display the products and ask tourists and employees of companies located in the towers to comment on the wacky labels.  The segment was scheduled to air a few days after the attack, but it was immediately shelved.  Of course, the networks focused on news coverage of the tragedy in the days and weeks after the attacks on America.

ABC News eventually decided to air the segment on the wacky labels, but only if all of the people who had been interviewed in the World Trade Center survived.  Happily, the producers learned after much searching that all of the people they had filmed had indeed survived!

The New York Times ran a story in which it reported that the people who had been filmed for the segment thought it would be nice to see the footage taken on that carefree day.  In November, 2001, the segment aired.  There was no mention of where it had been filmed because it was not considered crucial to the segment.  To see the video, click here.

The scenes where people can be seen walking in the background as others are interviewed about the funny labels were all filmed in the lower level of the World Trade Center.

I often think about the nice people we shared laughs with that day.  This week, I will fly my American flag proudly, as usual, and my thoughts and prayers will be with those survivors and all the families who lost loved ones on 9/11.

Popular Blog Features Wacky Warning Label Contest

A popular blog called “Abnormal Use” that was rated by the American Bar Association as the top torts legal blog in the country was kind enough to post a nice article featuring our Wacky Warning Label Contest recently.  They asked some interesting questions we don’t often get, so if you would like to see the article, here’s a link.

Abnormal Use is written by lawyers at the litigation and business law firm, Gallivan, White and Boyd, and has done an excellent job of covering important news in the area of products liability law.  If you make any kind of product or are interested in products liability law, I would recommend checking their site frequently.

If you have ever wondered what inspired us to start the Wacky Warning Label Contest 14 years ago, what we think the one thing in America is that doesn’t have a warning label but should, or what we think the funniest “pop culture” depiction of a product label is, you’ll want to read our short Q & A.  Let us know if you’ve seen something funnier than the Saturday Night Live parody we mentioned!


As you may have seen or heard, the winners of the 2011 Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest were chosen – by a studio audience on FOX Business Channel’s “Stossel.”

In the closest vote in years, the label on a common dust mask was chosen by the audience as the wackiest warning of 2011. The warning says: “Does not supply oxygen.” Alex Saenz of Dallas, Texas wins $1,000 for finding that label and submitting it to our annual contest sponsored by the Center for America.

Second place and $500 goes to John Nevin of Holt, Michigan who found a hilarious warning when reading a brochure that came with the bike he bought for his child. The brochure is filled with pictures of children riding bikes, many with training wheels, but the brochure carries this caution: “Warning: The action depicted in this brochure is potentially dangerous. The riders seen are experienced experts or professionals.”

To see that and the other warning labels in the contest this year, click here.

Finally, the third place prize and $250 goes to Archer Leupp of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Archer found a label on a cover for a hot tub that says: “Warning: Remove safety cover from spa when in use.”

Congratulations to all of the winners in our 14th annual Wacky Warning Labels Contest. To see a short video clip from “Stossel” where John and I talk about the litigation problem in America that makes these common sense warnings necessary, click here.

Several people from around the United States have already submitted warning labels for our next contest, so keep your eyes peeled for a warning label that could make you our 2012 grand prize winner. We would love to send you a check for $1,000!

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.

A New Year’s Resolution That Could Turn Your Favorite Holiday Gift Into Cash

Happy New Year!  Have you made a resolution for 2011 yet?  If not, consider one that’s actually fun, easy, and which could make you $1,000 richer.

Not possible, you say?  It is if you resolve to enter our annual Wacky Warning Label Contest.  There’s a good chance that one of the boxes or packages you have laying around the house after the holidays contains a warning label that would be perfect the contest.

Here are some of the previous cash prize winners in our contest that folks across the United States found on gifts they received:

  • A childs’ go-cart that warned: “This product moves when used.”
  • A snow sled that sported this warning:  “Beware: sled may develop high speed under certain snow conditions.”
  • A Christmas tree that came with this caveat:  “Not intended for human consumption.”
  • A portable DVD player that warned: “Do not swing from the product.”
  • A cell phone that cautioned: “Do not dry in microwave.”

Your chances of winning are probably better than you think.  And every year, we hear the same thing when we hand checks to the winners: “I never thought my label would win!”  Then, after winning, they have fun seeing their name appear in newspapers and websites around the world.

If you would like to enter, all of the information you need can be found right here.

Let’s be fair, we know that the reason there are so many wacky labels around us today is the rising number of frivolous lawsuits.  These lawsuits cost all of us a lot of money, and it’s not fair.  That’s why we’re working to put common sense back to work in the courts.

But for now, one of these labels could win you $1,000 if you enter our contest.  So, before you throw out all of those boxes and user’s manuals, read them closely!

Thanksgiving in 1810 and 1910? Chefs somehow survived without warning labels that cautioned: “Ovenware will get hot when used in oven.”

Happy Thanksgiving!  On this uniquely American holiday, I would like to share a very interesting article about Thanksgiving in 1810 that was written one hundred years ago.

We have much to be thankful for in 2010, and the article underscores that fact by offering a rare glimpse at life in America over the past two centuries.  The author, Clifford Howard, was measuring the progress of our nation at that time and wondering what life would be like in another hundred years.  You can read Howard’s article by going to “Thanksgiving in 1810, 1910 and 2010.”

On this day of thanksgiving, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank writer- and blogger-extraordinaire, Walter Olson, for bringing this wonderful piece to my attention.  Also, I want to take this opportunity to thank the incredible folks at the the Center for America for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts on life in the most lawsuit-happy society on earth via this blog.

As the creator of the Wacky Warning Label Contest and the author of a book based on that contest, Remove Child Before Folding, I can’t help thinking that despite the remarkable progress that has been made in our nation over the past 200 years, we have regressed in at least one area.  We can no longer rely on our court system to defend common sense.

That is sad.  It’s also why today, family chefs around the country will be cooking their Thanksgiving feasts in bakeware that actually warns: “Ovenware will get hot when used in oven.”  If you have oven pots made by Revere Ware, check it out.  You can also see the warning here.

I will be most thankful when the American civil justice system finally progresses to the point where the hardworking men and women throughout our nation who make all the great products that make life better don’t have to worry about getting sued if they don’t warn us about obvious dangers.

Until then, I’ll keep riding through the countryside like Paul Revere, who, in case you wondered, is indeed the man whose hard work and innovative mind gave rise to the company that would one day make Revere Ware cookware.  Only I’ll be shouting, “The lawyers are coming…the lawyers are coming.”  Paul Revere would understand.