Saturday, January 27, 2007
Posted by Alan Childress
The legal profession gave America its cranberry sauce, Howard Cosell, Star Jones, current sales of Spam and Red Lobster, and even Howard Stern (not that one; the one who possibly fathered a child with client Anna Nicole Smith--known in the industry as the non-refundable retainer). The profession is also widely credited with overblown and frivolous personal injury litigation.
Many of the most infamous cautionary "cases" of the suehappy millionaires--picture that RV nearly driving itself ["Toonces, look out!"] while its proud new owner is back getting coffee; or the house thief locked in the garage eating Purina Chow--are in fact urban myth spread by emails worthy of a U.K. lottery scam. And Stella Liebeck's McDonald's-hot-coffee case is overused for tort reform rhetoric, without examination of her true injuries and recovery. Even Miss Manners says members of the
profession just have to suck it up when it comes to our bad rep and the sport of lawyer bashing, though she says it more politely than that.
But there is little doubt that one real by-product of tort lawyering in America, or at least the perception of it, is imaginative warning labels and instructions. Sleeping pills warn that they may cause drowsiness. Even baby shampoo says keep away from children. Classics include the baby stroller warning to remove child first before folding, and the hair dryer warning not to use in oxygen tents. In each such case, you get the feeling that the label scriveners were not being imaginative at all--that it was a response to an actual use and perhaps even a lawsuit. You immediately visualize the precise activity that inspired a new warning Not to do that.
In the case of the oxygen tent, I see a blue-haired and handsome old lady much like the one tiptoeing over the Titanic remains, then tossing that hunking jewel that could have fed Biafra but hey she held onto it for memories and now it is time to let it go. But instead in this scenario she sits in an oxygen tent and she has decided to look exceptionally well-coiffed for a possible visit to her bubble by an imagined Leo DiCaprio or by her real grandchildren (she likes it when they hug her a lot, but of course they're just groping her trying to score the Heart of the Ocean that they have long suspected she has muled). She is just about to look blow-dry maahvelous when poof, lawsuit.
Didn't she even see the early scenes in Apollo 13? Bill Paxton was in that too, for crying out loud. Learn from your co-stars, lady.
Here is a website that collects Wacky Warning Labels [Hat Tip to the entertaining yet trivial Electronic Ephemera]. A chapter summary of its wacky project and some omitted warnings with decent explanation (the PMS Midol that warns against use if you have an enlarged prostate) are here. Their winner for year's wackiest warning is:
- The warning label on a washing machine at a laundromat that warns, “Do not put any person in this washer.”
But I like two of the also-rans (shouldn't that be alsos-ran?) even better:
- a label on a personal watercraft that warns: “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.”
- warning on a cell phone which says: “Don’t try to dry your phone in a microwave oven.”
Three past winners, worth considering their origins:
- warning on electric drill for carpenters cautions: “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.”
- cartridge for a laser printer warns, “Do not eat toner.”
- digital thermometer: "Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally."