Legally Speaking: More Wacky Warning Labels, and Other Assorted Weirdness

John G. Browning May 30, 2011, 5:00pm

One of the things I look forward to is bringing readers news of the annual "Wackiest Warning Labels" contest sponsored by the Roswell, Ga.-based Center for America.

Since 1997, the Center and its founder, Bob Dorigo Jones, have been using this humorous approach to convey a very serious message: that because of lawsuit abuse and fear of lawsuits, manufacturers selling products in the U.S. often go to ridiculous and unnecessary lengths with the warnings and instructions accompanying their goods.

Here are the top five finalists (the top three will receive cash prizes, and the winner will be chosen in June).

Hometown boy Alex Saenz of Dallas submitted the label on a common dust mask, which reads "Does not supply oxygen." Good to know—I won't take that scuba diving with me.

Another finalist is the warning label that appears on a hot tub cover, which says, "Warning: Avoid Drowning. Remove safety cover from spa when in use."

Okay, fellas, time for some tough love—if you have to be admonished to "avoid drowning" and you have to be reminded that the cover comes off the hot tub in order to use it, then it's time that you crawled out of the hot tub and, for that matter, out of the gene pool as well (you're clearly in the shallow end as it is).

Yet another contender is the label appearing on the advertisement for a leather handgun holster designed to look like a daily planner, very subtle and professional-looking. Unfortunately, the makers felt they needed to cater to the lowest common denominator by affixing the cautionary statement "For gun only, not a functional day planner."

If you really need that warning, perhaps you shouldn't be trusted with a firearm in the first place.

Another finalist is the warning emblazoned on a bicycle brochure that reads "Warning: The action depicted in this brochure is potentially dangerous. The riders seen are experienced experts or professionals."

While that may superficially seem like a responsible message, its seriousness is undermined by the photos in the brochure itself, which depict not Hollywood stuntmen or X Games professional riders, but little kids riding their bikes.

"Experienced experts or professionals," indeed!

One of my favorites, though, is the label appearing on the packaging for a ballpoint pen. It reads "Warning: Pen caps can obstruct breathing. Keep out of mouth."

As silly as it may seem to place a common sense caution like this, consider this observation.

The pen's instruction manual is printed in four different languages: English, Spanish, German and French. All four translations discuss the same features, instructions, and warnings—except the warning about swallowing the cap appears only in the English version.

Why? Not because people in Germany, France, or Spanish-speaking countries are any smarter than us or any less accident-prone, but rather because they are less likely to run to the courthouse and file a lawsuit over something that was their own fault.

While these warning labels are amusing to read and poke fun at, they're also a sad commentary on the litigious nature of our society and our unwillingness to accept responsibility for our own actions.

But that is not all the weirdness in the legal world of late.

In previous columns, I've discussed how not to get out of jury duty.

Here's another one to add to that list—don't ask for a cut of the verdict. Fifty-three-year-old Deonarine Persaud has been arrested and charged with felony bribe receiving and misdemeanor jury misconduct.

While serving as a juror in a New York medical malpractice trial, Persaud allegedly approached the plaintiff's father and offered to sway fellow jurors in exchange for 5 percent of the verdict. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

I've also written about strange names for children and bizarre 911 calls. Here are two more for those lists.

In Israel, a couple have decided to name their newborn daughter after the Facebook "like" button. Lior and Vardit Adler said they chose the name because it was "modern and innovative." Let's hope the little girl grows up with lots of "friends."

On the 911 front, 18-year-old Daniel Moore of Gainesville, Ga., will probably be a lot more careful in the future with his cell phone—once he gets out of jail and can use one again, that is.

Moore allegedly "pocket-dialed" 911, enabling the police dispatcher to hear him discussing a drug deal about to go down at a local Waffle House.

The 911 operator sent police to the restaurant where they arrested Moore and charged him with possession of illegal prescription narcotics. I wonder if he had to pay roaming charges as well.

I also have some additions to past columns I've written about judges who get creative in their sentencing and young prodigies headed to law school.

Ohio Judge Michael Cicconetti is known for his creative, "let the punishment fit the crime" approach to sentencing.

Grace Nash and Bruce Crawford pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of misconduct during an emergency; during flooding, the couple boarded a raft without life preservers, resulting in a rescue operation that involved two helicopters and nine police and fire departments (they also lied about it to the emergency responders).

Judge Cicconetti could have just left it at the 100 hours of community service and the written apology to all the rescue personnel that he imposed as a sentence. But he also gave Nash and Crawford a choice: serve jail time or stand in a wading pool at a local outdoor festival wearing bathing suits and flotation devices, while handing out water safety brochures to passersby.

Needless to say, the penitent couple got out their swimsuits and their sunblock for a day of public service.

Finally, there's another would-be "Doogie Howser, J.D." to report. Fifteen-year-old Ty Hobson-Powell is the youngest person ever to graduate from the University of Baltimore, and he's already been accepted to three law schools: Howard University, William & Mary and North Carolina Central.

The wünderkind's father teaches at Howard's medical school, while his mother is an officer for U.S. Public Health Service. According to his mother, ever since Ty was 4, "he's always said he wanted to be attorney general."

Ty, read my columns and see for yourself how bizarre the legal system can be. It's not too late to go to medical school.

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