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JONES: Wacky warning labels of 2014
Excessive lawsuits have made product manufacturers ridiculously cautious
Question of the Day
Americans love sports. We also love our sports teams. To show our team spirit, we proudly wear the logos of our favorite teams on everything from jerseys and caps to pajamas and socks.
Sadly, too many Americans also love lawsuits. We are the most litigious society on earth. For 17 years, we’ve held the Wacky Warning Labels Contest to showcase the lengths that manufacturers have to go to in order to avoid those lawsuits. A lot of the labels in our contest have been found on sports equipment, and this year, one of the “five finalists” in our contest was found on a sheet of decals given out to fans of the Buffalo Bills. You won’t believe what it says.
The sheet of decals was part of a promotional gift package that Bills’ fan Tim Weibel received from the team. The package suggests putting the decals on bikes, bike helmets, skateboards and scooters. The decals are fun, colorful and come in a variety of sizes. They also include this warning in the fine print: “Decals are for decoration only and will not prevent you from any bodily harm or injury.”
Now, really. You don’t say.
This label is unfortunately typical of warnings today. In the era of excessive litigation in America, product makers must constantly guard against being sued for not warning their customers about even the most obvious things. It’s one reason a pair of shin pads for bicyclists carried this warning a few years ago: “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.”
Add to that fear of being sued the growing number of concussion-related lawsuits against professional football leagues and equipment makers, and one can begin to understand why such a warning might exist on decals that can go on a bike helmet. Well, almost.
One of the other finalists in our contest this year was found on an actual football helmet. “Wacky” might not be the best adjective to describe the label, but it definitely describes the legal atmosphere that prompted the helmet manufacturer to provide this warning to its customers: “No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death. To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”
That’s right, we are now at the point in America where product makers feel they must advise their customers and potential customers to consider not buying their products. Some people blame manufacturers for being overly cautious with these warnings, but it would be more appropriate to blame a civil justice system that has moved too far away from the age-old concept of personal responsibility.
The sad fact is that we can no longer rely on the judicial system to always assign responsibility where it belongs, so we wind up with warnings like the one found on another finalist in our contest this year, an ink cartridge for a printer. The warning clearly printed on the package of a small cartridge measuring no more than 2.5 inches by 1.5 inches: “Do not drink.”
While there is certainly a place for legitimate 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 percent. That’s twice what it is in Germany (1.1 percent) and nearly three times what it is in Japan (0.8 percent). The United Kingdom and France spend even less on tort costs than Japan.
Call us wacky, but we think it’s time for judges and policymakers to give personal responsibility and common sense their rightful place in our courts again and to eliminate the “lawsuit tax” imposed on American consumers because of excessive litigation.
The real issue is not the obvious warning labels, but the billions of dollars in litigation costs being passed on to consumers.
Bob Dorigo Jones is senior fellow at the Center for America, creator of the annual Wacky Warning Labels Contest.
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