Warning Labels’ Amusing CautionsWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
People often complain about frivolous lawsuits and the lengths some people will go to turn a minor misfortune into a major windfall. To protect themselves from opportunistic leeches and predatory lawyers, businesses sometimes go to extreme lengths to protect their interests.
One of the more amusing byproducts of this interaction is the warning label. Tobacco and alcohol companies have to place graphic and frightening warning labels on their ads and products, not that sales seem to be suffering.
If “WARNING: The Surgeon General has determined that smoking can turn your lungs to orc sin” doesn’t deter you from lighting up, what will?
My favorite warning label was on the old Kenner Halloween costumes for Batman and Superman. The box had a sticker that cautioned, “Cape does not enable wearer to fly.”
But if some kid hadn’t jumped off a roof, trying to make like the Man of Steel, they wouldn’t need that warning.
An annual contest brings attention to and has some fun with these liability-shield warnings.
A label on a fishing lure with three steel hooks that says, ‘‘Harmful if swallowed’’ took fourth in the seventh annual Wacky Warning Label Contest. Organizers of the contest, the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, say it highlights the lengths to which manufacturers will go to avoid lawsuits stemming from misuse of consumer products.
‘‘Wacky warning labels are a sign of our lawsuit-plagued times,’’ Robert B. Dorigo Jones, president of M-LAW, a nonprofit group working to raise public awareness of how the explosion in litigation is harming the country, told the Associated Press.
‘‘It used to be that if someone spilled coffee in their lap, they simply called themselves clumsy. Today, too many people are calling themselves an attorney.’’
First prize was a warning on a bottle of drain cleaner. The label reads: ‘‘If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product.’’
Second prize went to a label on a snow sled: ‘‘Beware: sled may develop high speed under certain snow conditions.’’
Third-place went to a label on a 12-inch-high compact disc storage rack that warns: ‘‘Do not use as a ladder.’’
‘‘This ‘sue first, ask questions later’ mentality has not only produced wacky warning labels, it has increased the cost of products and services families use daily,’’ Jones said. ‘‘That’s the real problem.’’
Some other gems, from the Web site www.mlaw.org/_pages/pastwinners.htm:
A warning label on a baby stroller cautions the user to “Remove child before folding.”
A prescription sleeping pill says, “Warning: May cause drowsiness.”
A snowblower warns, “Do not use snowthrower on roof.”
A CD player carries this warning: “Do not use the Ultradisc2000 as a projectile in a catapult.”
A 13-inch wheel on a wheelbarrow warns, “Not intended for highway use.”
A bathroom heater says, “This product is not to be used in bathrooms.”
A can of self-defense pepper spray warns users, “May irritate eyes.”
A manufactured fireplace log warns, “Caution — Risk of fire.”
A household iron warns users, “Never iron clothes while they are being worn.”
Knowing that these labels result from people having actually tried some of these stupidities makes last year’s winning label very scary:
A label on a massage chair read ‘‘Do not use massage chair without clothing … and, never force any body part into the backrest area while the rollers are moving.’’