'Avoid drowning' and other wacky warnings on labels

Detroit:  Ballpoint pen-chewers, take note: The cap in your mouth can obstruct breathing if swallowed. Common sense? Apparently for speakers of French, Spanish and German. The warning appears only in the English section of the multilingual instructions from the pen manufacturer, according to the creator of the Wacky Warning Labels contest.

The pen cap caveat is among five finalists announced on Tuesday in the 14th annual contest that calls out silly warning labels and rails against lawsuits it deems frivolous.

"The lawsuit problem is a uniquely American problem," said Bob Dorigo Jones, who started the contest that's sponsored by the Atlanta-based nonprofit group The Center for America. Its stated mission is to "reduce barriers to free enterprise."

"People in other countries do not sue when they cause an injury to themselves because their systems don't allow it," said Dorigo Jones, a Novi, Mich.-based senior fellow of the center.

Other finalists include "Does not supply oxygen" on a dust mask and "Avoid drowning. Remove safety cover from spa when in use" on a hot tub cover. A more high-concept warning making the list is this label for a leather handgun holster designed to look like a personal digital assistant: "For gun only, not a functional day planner."

Another warning on the list tells would-be bicycle riders, "The action depicted in this brochure is potentially dangerous. The riders seen are experts or professionals." At least some of the children pictured have training wheels on their bikes.

The nominations were selected from entries submitted to The Center for America by mail. A live studio audience of a national television show is expected to select the three cash prize winners next month from the five finalists.

Dorigo Jones said he's observed that excessive warning labels seem to defeat their purpose.
"We have become so over-warned in America," he said. "Many warning-label experts ... believe that warnings have gotten to the point that people ignore them now."

The executive director of a consumer group that aims to defend the civil justice system sees it differently.

"Litigation in this country is dropping like a rock in every state," said Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice & Democracy.

"To be of more benefit to the country we should take a look at people who have been injured by dangerous products who are no longer able to get into court because of tort restrictions that have passed. ... That's a far bigger problem," she said.
Story First Published: May 19, 2011 08:50 IST

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