It’s everywhere. The legalese. The lawyers’ gobbledygook. The hocus‑pocus and mumbo‑jumbo from a generation dominated by the legal profession. It’s the fallout from our litigious society.
The warning labels and messages are everywhere: on ladders, cigarettes, and lawnmowers, on prescription drugs and alcoholic beverages. Most of these warnings are expected. We hardly recognize them any more. We’ve become jaded and mesmerized by them.
Manufacturers go to laughable lengths to protect their customers from harm, bombarding them with ridiculous warning labels or stunningly obvious explanations of how their products work. Why else would a carton of eggs actually say that the product may contain eggs?
Of course the plaintiff’s bar has had plenty to do with this silly — and costly — trend. Sham product-liability cases can and do rack up Lotto size jury verdicts. According to Jury Verdict Research, which tracks results of personal-injury claims, in 2011 the median jury award in product liability cases was almost $2 million. Today, most likely that median damage award is much higher.
Here are a few stunningly stupid warning labels, obviously designed to forewarn the lowest common denominator of the consumer public:
• Warning label on sleep aid Nytol, advertised as a “clinically proven night time sleep aid” — WARNING, MAY CAUSE DROWSINESS.
• Warning label on several makes of chainsaws — DANGER! DO NOT HOLD WRONG END OF CHAINSAW.
• Label on gas caps for personal recreational vehicles, e.g., jet skis and ATVs — NEVER USE A LIT MATCH OR OPEN FLAME TO CHECK FUEL LEVEL.
• Sassoon hair dryer — DO NOT USE WHILE SLEEPING.
• Blow torch gas bottle — CONTENTS MAY CATCH FIRE.
• Reflective cardboard sun shades for car dashboards • DO NOT DRIVE WITH SUN SHIELD IN PLACE.
• Craftsman power drill — POWER DRILL NOT INTENDED FOR DENTAL USE.
The simple response by any teenager to these unbelievable warnings would most likely be to blurt out “WELL, DUH!!!”, accompanied by major eye-rolling. But the remarkable truth is that the reason for the warning label is a prior lawsuit by some total idiot who sued after mangling his hand by grabbing the business end of a chainsaw or ripping out several teeth while trying to do some minor dental work with a power drill. The warnings are indeed set by the activities of the lowest level of human evolution Darwin could imagine. But aren’t some things in life so obvious that you don’t need reminding? Do we really need a corporate warning to keep us from patently obvious peril? This remarkable proliferation of warning labels may make a wide range of expressions from our “formative years” totally obsolete:
• “Don’t you know better than to do that?” (Well I guess not.)
• “Mother didn’t raise no fool.” (Or maybe she did?!)
• “Only a total idiot would do something so stupid.” (Maybe so, but there are lots of total idiots out there.)
• “How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?” (Oh, just one more time. Maybe two.)
• “When will you learn, when will you learn?” (Oh, maybe if I burn myself again.)
• “What on earth is the matter with you. Won’t you ever learn?” (Well, maybe, but I’m a real slow learner.)
• “Oh, for goodness sake, you don’t have an ounce of common sense, do you?” (Well, maybe not… over time I’ll surely need several pounds of cure.)
• “Why, I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” (Well, how about leaving me alone for starters. Let me stumble along and make some mistakes. Treat me like the adult I’m supposed to be. After all, one thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.)
Despite all the warnings in the marketplace, folks are injured, maimed, and even killed because of their own stupidity. To these folks the warning messages are irrelevant. Of course, the manufacturer will be able to argue “we did absolutely everything within our power to keep these poor idiots from misusing our product, but they simply don’t listen!”
But, for the rest of us who have a modicum of common sense, who have an ounce of brain matter, who aren’t total numb‑skulls, this warning blitz is an annoyance verging on an outrage. The seat belt alarms, door ajar buzzers, “this‑vehicle‑is‑backing‑up” warning beepers, and the blizzard of warning labels are an insult to anyone with the I.Q. of a turnip. Confronted by the omnipresent, blaring warnings at every turn in our daily lives, some of us are inclined to shriek; “For God’s sake, shut up and leave me alone, will you?”
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