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.

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!