Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2004 / 5 Shevat, 5764

David Grimes

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Consumer Reports

Warning: Labels on products are getting wackier and wackier | If you try to save time by ironing your clothes without first taking them off, you will probably not "get" this column. (By the same token, if a cinder block has recently fallen on your head, you will probably not "get" this column. In fact, these two groups may consist of the same people.)

If you are like me and have a lot of spare time on your hands, you have probably noticed that the warning labels on products are getting wackier and wackier. There was a time when if you spilled a cup of hot coffee in your lap, you would simply say "ouch" and proceed at a brisk pace to your local burn/trauma center for treatment. Today, the first thing you would do is call your attorney and file a lawsuit on the grounds (ha!) that your coffee had been maliciously and irresponsibly heated to the point that you could not pour it on your lap without risk of painful, disfiguring and - let us not forget - actionable injury.

Fortunately for those of you with lives, a group out there not only keeps track of wacky warning labels but actually rewards people for bringing the best/worst of them to its attention. Since 1997, Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch has studied how lawsuits (or simply the fear of them) have prompted many manufacturers to issue warnings against obvious misuses of their products.

One such warning - and this did not even make the top three - came on a 5-inch fishing lure that cautioned users that it would be "harmful if swallowed." (This could have serious implications if fish ever learn to read.)

The $500 grand prize for the wackiest label went to Robert Brocone of Euclid, Ohio, who found the following warning on a bottle of drain cleaner: "If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product."

(And if you think this warning makes any sense, you should definitely not be using this product, either.)

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Alexander Tabarrok of Fairfax, Va., won the $250 second-place award for a label he found on a snow sled that read: "Beware: Sled may develop high speed under certain snow conditions." (That certain snow condition even has a name. It's called "ice.")

One of my personal favorites was discovered by Bob Skowronek of Northville, Mich. He purchased a 12-inch-tall storage rack for CDs that warned: "Do not use as ladder."

(Presumably there is also, somewhere out there, a label on a ladder that cautions against using it as a CD rack.)

Other labels that have been sent in over the years include:

• A warning on a baby stroller cautioning the user to "remove child before folding." (And place him or her atop a fast-moving sled.)

• A snowblower warning that reads: "Do not use snowthrower on roof." (However, it is perfectly OK to use it in your living room.)

• A dishwasher warning that reads: "Do not allow children to play in the dishwasher." (That's what the oven is for.)

• A CD player bore this warning: "Do not use the Ultradisc2000 as a projectile in a catapult." (I think I speak for all Americans when I say, "Huh?")

• A 13-inch wheel on a wheelbarrow warns: "Not intended for highway use." (At least not until they figure out a way to equip the things with airbags.)

All of which has me extremely worried about being the defendant in a huge lawsuit, which is why I shall close with this warning: Do not eat, inhale or inject this column.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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