Email Disclaimers – The Next Wacky Warning Labels?

Have you read any good email disclaimers lately?

If you get a fair amount of email, chances are that you have at least glanced at a few of them.  Electronic disclaimers are getting almost as common as the wacky warning labels that we see everywhere in America these days, and some are almost as funny.

These disclaimers were recently the focus of a Wall Street Journal story and our own weekly radio commentary, “Let’s Be Fair,” and we thought you might be interested in what lawyers think about them.

Actually, there is no consensus among lawyers on the topic, and there has been an ongoing debate over just how effective — and enforceable — email disclaimers are. Some think these disclaimers have value, but others think won’t stand up in a court of law.

The Wall Street Journal tells the story of one attorney who changed his mind on the disclaimers. “Several years ago, William L. Wilson sent a memo to other partners in his South Bend, Ind., law firm insisting they include a standard confidentiality disclaimer on every email. ‘As I began to think about it further I realized no one reads these things,’ said Mr. Wilson, who practices civil law. ‘I don’t read them.’ He has removed the disclaimer from his emails.

Another attorney, who I suspect sees more of these disclaimers than almost anyone in America, thinks that many of them are worthless.  James Merklinger, vice president of the Association of Corporate Counsel, argues that many disclaimers are pointless, especially ones at the end of emails ordering unintended recipients not to read the text that came before.  As he says in the same article, “It gets harder and harder to argue you have a system in place to keep information confidential, but then you have your order from [Mexican restaurant] Chipotle marked as privileged.”

Since we live in a society where it has become almost a reflex for some people to sue first and ask questions later, we’ll probably keep seeing more and more email disclaimers…even if virtually no one reads them.

To read the funniest email disclaimer I’ve ever seen, click here.  If you have one you would like to share, we would love to see it.

Popular Comic Strip Has Fun With Wacky Warnings

In case you missed the “funnies” section of your newspaper last Sunday, we thought you’d like to see the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip that delved into the often-comical world of warning labels.

In the award-winning strip by Stephan Pastis, one of the characters reads through a litany of warning labels he found on a kitchen toaster.  After several panels, he looks at the toaster and says “I’ve never been so afraid of a toaster.”  We share his pain!

The full strip, published by the United Feature Syndicate, can be seen at the website of GoComics.

Pastis probably understands why toasters and other consumers goods carry so many warnings better than any cartoonist around.  He’s a former lawyer who spent nine years practicing law, and he litigated many civil cases on behalf of the defense.  I think I’ve found my new favorite cartoonist.

If you’re a lawyer considering a similar career move, or even if you’d like to read about how Pastis’ fellow lawyers helped him develop a comic strip that would eventually be carried in 650 newspapers worldwide, here’s an interesting interview with the cartoonist you might enjoy.

Coincidentally, one of our Let’s Be Fair radio commentaries recently focused on the fear created by litigation-fueled warning labels, too.  To hear the real-life story of someone who was too afraid to use a product she purchased because of an ominous warning printed on it, click here.

Thanks to Kevin Soave of Farmington Hills, Michigan for sending us the tip on the Pearls Before Swine comic strip.  Kevin won the grand prize in our Wacky Warning Label Contest in 2007 for a label he found on a small tractor.  It said, “Warning: Avoid Death.”  Hard to argue with that.

Talking About Freedom, Job Growth, and Innovation at CPAC

We’re going to be attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC this Thursday and Friday, so if you’re going to be there, please let me know.  We’ll be doing interviews on “radio row” and talking with opinion leaders about how we can free America from the yolk of lawsuit abuse.

Last year, I had the privilege of being a guest on several radio programs that air around the country.  If you would like to listen in to our conversations this year via the Internet, follow us on Twitter to get a schedule of when and where we’ll be doing interviews.  You can find us at Twitter.com/BobDorigoJones.

One of the highlights of last year’s conference was hearing political commentator, George Will, give the key note speech and use several wacky warning labels taken directly from my book to illustrate the litigation problem in America.  To see him talking about our wacky labels, click here.

It’s vital that we continue to educate policy makers about the crushing burden lawsuit abuse has on Americans via the litigation tax, the negative impact it has on health care and innovation, and on community groups like the Girl Scouts and Little League Baseball.  Having already recorded 78 weekly “Let’s Be Fair” radio commentaries on a wide range of topics, we have plenty of proof of why civil justice reform is needed now more than ever!

National Tailwinds For Legal Reform At CPAC

So glad that several allies pushed me this year to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago.  It was inspiring to see so many people working to protect the Constitutional rights that too many people take for granted — 10,000+ attendees with some of the top leaders and thinkers in America!

One of the features of CPAC is “radio row,” where many of the country’s top radio hosts broadcast their programs directly from the Conference. I had the privilege of being a guest on several programs and appreciated the chance to spread the word about our work to millions of Americans in different radio markets all in one day, which was unique.

The photo at top left here was taken while I was talking with Roger Hedgecock, the exceptional San Diego-based Top Ten syndicated radio host whom frequently guest-hosts for Rush Limbaugh.

The highlight of CPAC, at least for me, was hearing distinguished political commentator, George Will, use several wacky warning labels taken directly from my book to illustrate the litigation problem in America. To see the part of his speech when he talks about our wacky labels, click here. It’s about 1:50 into the segment.

I’m told by our team members who work with the media that our CPAC radio interviews with nationally syndicated programs reached an estimated 30 million Americans with our discussion about the Wacky Warning Label contest, the quality-of-life issues affected by lawsuit abuse, and the new programs available at the Center for America.  Wow – thanks, America!

And thanks to the hosts who invited me to join them on their programs – Tony Beam, Roger Hedgecock, Jeff Katz, Lars Larson, Phil Paleologos, Phil Valentine, and even Thom Hartman who, as the lone “progressive” at CPAC, took the plaintiff lawyers’ side when we had a pretty lively debate on his show.

America’s Favorite Pastime Collides With Favorite Pastime of Personal Injury Lawyers

I wonder what former Little League Baseball CEO Creighton Hale would think.

That was the first thought that popped into my head recently when I read in the new “Judicial Hellholes” report by the American Tort Reform Foundation that personal injury lawyers had won an outrageous verdict against one of the largest manufactures of aluminum bats in America.

Mr. Hale told me many years ago that the Little League spent more money on liability insurance to protect itself from lawsuits than it spent on any other item in its budget.  If you’re looking for an example of how much our culture has changed for the worse because of all the lawsuits clogging the courts today, you don’t have to look any further than that.

In the 1960’s, Mr. Hale pioneered several changes in baseball equipment to improve the safety of children playing the game.  In addition to developing the double-earflap batter’s helmet and the one-piece catcher’s mask, he co-developed with Alcoa Sports the aluminum bat.

The light aluminum bats made the game easier to learn for small children, but their primary benefit was that they didn’t break. Wooden bats can become dangerous projectiles when they splinter.  Aluminum bats don’t do that.

Despite the safety advantages of aluminum bats, a judge in Montana last year allowed a personal injury lawyer to sue the company that makes Louisville Slugger bats after a freak accident in which an 18-year-old pitcher was killed by a ball hit with an aluminum bat.

Incredibly, the personal injury lawyer argued that the accident could have been prevented simply if the bat had carried a better warning label.  Based on that argument, he won a mindboggling verdict of $850,000.  So much for Wacky Warning Labels!  See my previous post below for examples of wacky labels that were slapped on products because of lawsuits like this.

We all know that baseball involves risk, just like everything else in life.  But lawsuits aren’t making the game safer – just more expensive.  America’s favorite pastime is in serious jeopardy.

The Top Ten Wackiest Warning Labels Of All Time

Tractor Warning Label

Tractor Warning Label

During the 13 years we have held the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest, people from all over America have sent us some of the most outrageously obvious warnings you could imagine.

Of course, we always enjoy the humor these labels provide, but we particularly appreciate all the opportunities they give us to reveal the lawsuit problems in American that have made such labels necessary and to engage the public in a conversation about what needs to be done to fix the system.

Ted Frank’s excellent op-ed article for AOL News today once again puts the spotlight on our Wacky Warning Label Contest and raises some new issues involving class action lawsuits that you’ll want to read.  Ted is an attorney and the president and founder of The Center For Class Action Fairness.

We always get a lot of email when our contest is featured on a major website like this, and one of the most common questions we get is: “What are the wackiest warning labels you’ve seen over the years?”

It’s about time we answered that question.   So in descending rank, with number one being the wackiest warning label of all time, here is my list for the Ten Wackiest Warning Labels Ever:

10. A warning on a wood router says:  “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.”

9. A five-inch brass fishing lure with a three-pronged hook on the end cautions: “Harmful if swallowed.”

8. A letter opener carries this warning,  “Caution: Safety goggles recommended.”

7. A vanishing fabric marker warns: “The Vanishing Fabric Marker should not be used as a writing instrument for signing checks or any legal documents.”

6. A bag of livestock castration rings warns,  “For animal use only.”

5. A label on a washing machine warns, “Do not put any person in this washer.”

4. A label on a small tractor cautions:  “Danger!  Avoid Death.”

3. A portable toilet seat called the “Off-Road Commode” that attaches to a vehicle’s trailer hitch warns: “Not for use when vehicle is in motion.”

2. A popular scooter used by children throughout the United States warns: “This product moves when used.”

And, my all-time favorite…

1. A label on baby stroller warns: “Remove child before folding.”

For more information about the Wacky Warning Label Contest sponsored by the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, click here:

Scooters Move: Why Do Americans Need To Be Warned?

A German TV interviewer asked me this question.

frogonscooterA film crew from ARD German TV came to my office a couple of weeks ago to film a story about Wacky Warning Labels and lawsuits in America.

ARD German TV is equivalent to PBS in the United States, and it is the latest in a string of overseas television networks to take an interest in the Wacky Warning Label Contest sponsored by the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice.   Television crews from Korea, France and Japan have also traveled here to film stories about why Americans need labels that warn us of obvious risks.

Reporters from countries look at us lawsuit-happy Americans with a mixture of disbelief and sympathy.  When I show them a label on a popular scooter that warns, “This product moves when used,” they laugh, of course, and then ask why it’s there.  They simply don’t see these kinds of labels on products in their countries.

After I give them a list of lawsuits against product makers that involved someone getting injured while using a product that WASN’T defective, they begin to understand.  However, since all of these reporters come from countries that have Loser Pays legal systems – meaning people there who sue and lose have to pay the legal costs of the party they sued – they are not accustomed to a legal system tolerating these types of lawsuits.

I’ve learned a lot during these interviews with reporters from other countries.  Mainly, I’ve discovered how out of whack America’s civil justice system is with other developed countries with which we are competing for economic development.  I wish every member of Congress and every state legislator could sit in on these interviews.

When I ask the reporters if the scarcity of lawsuits in their countries has left them with an abundance of injuries from unsafe products, they simply say “No.”  These are investigative reporters who would know.

So, if we’re not any safer because of all these lawsuits, and if we’re paying more for the consumer products we buy because of the built-in “lawsuit tax” that Americans pay, why do we tolerate this situation?  There’s no easy answer to that question.  However, in my opinion, the tremendous influence of the plaintiffs’ lawyers who have been throwing money at lawmakers and judges with the hope of getting (and/or keeping) laws that make it easier for them to sue is a primary driver of this situation.  More on that later.

I’ll post the video of the segment that runs on ARD German TV as soon as it’s available.

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.