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Don’t Sue Me, I’m Warning You

February 2005
Don’t Sue Me, I’m Warning You

Lighter Side

Warning: This column may be addictive, may induce laughter, and may produce harmful levels of optimism. Side effects include unexpected giggling, excessive shaking, and loose dentures. Please consult a doctor if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or were once pregnant. Please do not use for any purpose other than intended, including lowering blood pressure, reducing tension and relieving menstrual cramps. Discontinue use immediately if you experience bloating and/or severe itching.

Now that you've been sufficiently warned, I can relax and write the rest of this column, knowing that you're less likely to sue me. Lawsuits have prompted a multitude of product warnings in recent years, many intended for people who were busy reading their horoscopes when common sense was being handed out.

On a toilet brush: "Do not use for personal hygiene." On a children's scooter: "This product moves when used." On a digital thermometer: "Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally." (Unless, of course, you've scrubbed it with a toilet brush.)

Those three warnings were the top winners in the eighth annual Wacky Warning Label Contest, sponsored by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch. The goal of the contest is to "reveal how lawsuits, and concern about lawsuits, have created a need for common sense warnings on products."

The winning labels from previous contests seem just as wacky, until you realize that they're also rather helpful.

On a baby stroller: "Remove child before folding." (If necessary, the stroller may be folded, too.)

On a brass fishing lure with a three-pronged hook on the end: "Harmful if swallowed." (Please don't tell the fish.)

On a hair dryer: "Never use hair dryer while sleeping." (Even if you keep dreaming of having great hair.)

On a household iron: "Never iron clothes while they are being worn." (Unless you're trying to remove both layers of wrinkles.)

On an electric drill made for carpenters: "This product not intended for use as a dental drill." (However, you may use it to drill your dentist.)

On a cartridge for a laser printer: "Do not eat toner." (Trust me, it's much safer to lie in the sun.)

On a box of birthday cake candles: "Do not use soft wax as ear plugs or for any other function that involves insertion into a body cavity." (It may be your birthday, but please find another way to celebrate.)

On a bottle of drain cleaner: "If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product." (Unless you have tested it on your skin first.)

Those warnings may seem silly, but as Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy in New York, told the Associated Press, "There are many cases of warning labels saving lives. It's much better to be very cautious." That's why I propose a few other warnings:

On a bottle of beer: "Excessive consumption of this product may result in various acts of stupidity."

On the backseat of a car: "Wearing a seat belt will protect you from most accidents, but probably not pregnancy."

On a marriage certificate: "Failure to remember the date on this document may be harmful to your health."

On a motorcycle helmet: "This product may protect your brain. Use with extreme caution."

On a women's handbag: "This product is not intended to hold all your life's possessions."

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