In Torts, we were talking about product warning defects and, particularly, the warnings found on most plastic bags. These are warnings to adults to keep plastic bags away from babies, cribs, etc. because they present a suffication hazard. Using various bags as examples, we talked about the efficacy of such warnings in terms of size, placement and whether they needed to be in multiple languages. (We also discussed whether the risk is obvious, in which case there would be no duty to warn of it.)
This week a student brought me a plastic bag that attempted to solve the efficacy problems by omitting written warnings and relying solely on pictorial warnings. Did they succeed? You be the judge.
First, we have this one. Here’s your test.
Question. This pictorial warning is intended to convey the following risk information:
(a) Keep plastic bags away from babies to prevent suffocation.
(b) Impressions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream are prohibited.
(c) Do not place large adult mitts around babies’ throats.
(d) This haz-mat suit does not work properly.
A is the correct answer.
This next one was on the same bag.
Question. This pictorial warning is intended to convey the following risk information:
(a) Keep plastic bags away from babies to prevent suffocation.
(b) Diapers required.
(c) Do not press pieces of toast against baby’s head.
(d) No balloon animals.
A is the correct answer.
When you were a kid, or maybe still, did you ever wonder why, no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t reproduce the product results with your toys similar to those represented in the advertising? These failures caused massive wounds to self-esteem to millions of children. The examples are too many too count. Legos, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs. How were we supposed to build that 10,000-piece castle on the box with fifty pieces?
At least one modern manufacturer is paying attention to protecting the egos of today’s youth via product warnings. Play-Doh warns kids, at least the ones who read product warnings, to not get their artistic hopes up because:
Reading this made me feel much better about myself because I recently attempted to replicate this delightful bug on the same packaging:
But ended up with this:
Can you interpret this pictorial warning?
The entertainment lawyer who sent it along thought maybe her landlord was warning tenants not to practice their parcours on the trash dumpster. “That stick figure is having far too much fun,” she wrote. “Look at his exuberant arms!
He definitely does appear to be celebrating a ”Ta-Da!” kind of moment.
Remember: In evaluating a pictorial warning, you have to imagine you can’t read the textual warnings, either because you can’t read at all or can’t read English or other language the verbal warning is printed in.
This one rates only a 1.0 on Lawhaha.com’s proprietary 4.0 “Pictorial Warning Clarity” scale.
For more pictorical warning fun, see here here, here and here.
–Thanks to Nicole Jurkowski.
Slow down. The Incredible Hulk’s offspring may be playing in your neighborhood.
Hmm, maybe kids really are getting bigger. First, we had the titan-tyke falling from the diaper-changing station and now we have, courtesy of a first-year law student at the University of Memphis, this sign cautioning that children are at play. Very large children. Children who, judging by the picture, could contend in the decathlon at the Olympics.
–Thanks to Rob Clapper.
It’s always fun, fun, and more fun deciphering pictorial warnings.
Here’s a warning, along with a request, from a restaurant restroom in Naples, Florida: be careful not to let your baby fall off of the changing station, and also, don’t forget to throw away the dirty diaper! A good warning and reasonable request.
Remember, to interpret pictorial warnings, you have to imagine you can’t read the textual warnings below the symbols, either because you can’t read at all or can’t read English or other language the verbal warning is printed in. That’s the purpose of a pictorial warning: to convey a danger or instruction to persons for whom verbal warnings are inadequate.
The first picture–the falling baby–does a pretty good job of communicating the risk, although that is one huge baby. His feet are way above the changing table while his head is already touching the floor. Here’s a wall-mounted baby changing station with a recommended height of 45.5 inches. At that height, this baby would be approximately six-feet tall judging by the picture.
Because the child is portrayed as a giant, the flecks flying up around his head look like they could be pieces of floor tile. Maybe the intended warning is: “Do Not Damage Floor with Falling Objects.” Or: “No Sumo Wrestlers on Changing Table.”
But the poor “little guy” is resilient. The second picture shows him cleaning up afterwards, and good news! He looks fit as a fiddle.
These accidents do happen and are terrible to imagine. The risk is obvious, but maybe a picture serves a useful reminding function.
On the 4.0 point “Pictorial Product Symbol Clarity” rating system recently developed at secret Lawhaha.com laboratories, I would give these pictorial symbols a 3.5. What do you think?
Like any heat-generating electrical device, toasters can be very dangerous.
Here’s the main warning page from a set of instructions for a new toaster (click pic to expand).
Most of these are good warnings, even if they sound silly. For example, “do not insert fingers … into slots when toaster is plugged in” sounds obvious, but how many toaster-users among us could swear under oath we haven’t fished stuff out of a plugged-in toaster with bare hands? One of the most common types of toaster injuries is burned fingers from trying to get Pop-Tarts out.
And on reading “Do not operate or place the toaster … in a heated oven or microwave oven,” your first reaction might be to laugh, but this kind of warning is there because real live, or at least formerly so, consumers have engaged in exactly that activity.
So these are mostly good warnings, but two quibbles applicable to many product warnings:
–First, it’s annoying when product warnings direct consumers to do things the manufacturer knows 100 percent they are not going to do, such as “Unplug toaster from outlet when not in use.” Maybe I lead an overly risky life, but I do not unplug all electrical products (many of which include the same warning) between usage. Repeated plugging and unplugging strikes me as being potentially even more dangerous when it comes to toasters because water is frequently running nearby and fingers may be wet or slippery from various cooking ingredients.
–Second, it would be great if we could ditch the generic warnings that clearly do not apply to the particular product. They simply dilute the impact of (and already small likelihood consumers will actually read) the important warnings. Example here: “Do not use attachments that are not recommended by the manufacturer.” I have no doubt consumers misuse products in varied and imaginative ways, but I can’t picture what kinds of attachments they would use for a toaster.
Post script: An insurance defense lawyer-turned-judge friend wrote in response to this post:
Gulp. Will you still be my friend if I confess that I actually DO unplug the toaster between uses? It’s the old insurance defense lawyer in me. I don’t walk over grates in the sidewalk or manhole covers in the street. I don’t talk on the phone or shower when there is lightning outside. I inanely tell loved ones departing in cars: “Drive safely!” (In response, my former husband once told me, “Good thing you said that. Had you not, I would have driven like a maniac.”) In my defense, experts actually do advise unplugging small appliances like toasters. Here’s one explanation why.
Two points. First, you can see what being immersed in tort law does to people’s psyches. We become very safe people. Second, I’m still not convinced. If electric appliances present a significant risk of physical harm to persons or property (other than harm to only the product) simply from being plugged in, I would argue that the failure to incorporate failsafe technology from electrical surges is a defective design.
It’s hard to tell in this warning if Apple was serious or trying to be amusing in admonishing consumers “Do not eat iPod shuffle.” (Click on pic to expand.)
It seems ridiculous enough to be a joke, especially becaise it follows the instructions above the warning stating that syncing the device will be ”a piece of cake. Cupcake, even.”
No doubt Apple has a galaxy of outstanding legal advisors, so it’s surprising no one pointed out: “Never, ever make jokes in product warnings because they can come back to bite you.”
Let’s assume hypothetically that the product seriously injured someone in a different way that should have been, but wasn’t, warned about, say, because the battery could explode. I can see the cross-examination:
“So you didn’t warn consumers about the danger of exploding batteries, is that true?”
“But you did warn them not to eat their iPod shuffle, is that correct?”
“Yes, but we were just joking about that.”
“Sir, my client is blind in one eye because of your failure to warn. Does Apple consider product warnings to be a joke?”
On the other hand, it’s always possible they really were warning consumers not to eat their iPod shuffles, which would an unnecessary, silly warning because manufacturers do not have a legal duty to warn consumers not to eat electronic devices. The exception, of course, would be if the object was small enough to present a choking hazard to children, which doesn’t appear to be the case with an iPod shuffle. But even if that was a risk, the warning should not be “Do not eat iPod shuffle,” but something like, “Choking hazard: Keep away from small children.”
During a Torts class last semester, we were discussing various applications of Judge Learned Hand’s formula for negligence, when a student asked, “Why isn’t it negligent to hold pinata parties?” To which I replied, “It probably is!”
Judge Hand’s formula, explained in a famous case called United States v. Carroll Towing Co., is that if the burden of avoiding a risk is less than than probability of the risk resulting in harm multiplied by the potential severity of the harm, it is negligent to engage in the conduct.
As applied to pinata parties, the only burden to avoiding the risk is to choose a different, safer game to entertain kids at a party, compared to the risk that a blindfolded kid swinging a bat could whack some other kid in the head and cause serious injury.
Some students thought I was just being, as usual, overly cautious Tortman, but then I came across this sign at a picnic area while bike-riding in Shelby Farms. Vindicated.
But wait, what is up with that prohibition on metal detecting?
If you come here often, you know we love pictorial product warnings. Pictorial warnings are intended to explain product dangers in a universal symbol or picture that can be universally understood even by people who cannot read or who speak and read a different language.
Here we have a pictorial product announcement on the back of a rug indicating the company uses no child labor. Very commendable.
The test for a pictorial symbol is whether it communicates its intended message without textual explanation. So take away the “No Child Labor” words and what do you see? A “No Happy Children” warning.
Not quite sure why the manufacturer felt it necessary to include a pictorial symbol in the first place, unless universal pictorial warnings have been transmuted into marketing tools–which will further dilute their already limited uility as product-risk warnings.
Or, maybe the manufacturer really is warning consumers not to use child labor. I can see some kid whose allowance includes vacuuming balking to mom and dad, “You’re violating this warning! I’m calling the labor department!”
Okay, that’s probably not the original message of this crosswalk sign, found on the University of Florida campus, but a sense of urgency was added when someone doctored the sign by adding a can of Red Bull … and angel wings?
One of the milder pictures of Stella Liebeck’s coffee burn injuries.
Any mention of lawsuits and hot coffee invariably invokes the grossly misunderstood “McDonald’s coffee spill” case of Stella Liebeck, a 79-old-woman who suffered third-degree burns after spilling a stryrofoam, takeout cup of McDonald’s coffee on her legs.
I apologize for the gruesome picture, but a large part of the misunderstanding of this case comes from people not appreciating that Ms. Liebeck suffered extremely severe injuries. There are much worse pictures of her injuries available on the internet. There is also a ton of information, and misinformation, out there about the McDonald’s case. Here (scroll down to “Public Perceptions: The McDonald’s Coffee Spill”) and here are a couple accounts of the facts. You might also want to check out the movie, Hot Coffee.
Sideways on purpose. Click to expand.
At least one Canadian coffee seller found the idea of warning consumers about hot coffee to be amusing:
“If this was another country, we’d have to tell you this coffee may be hot. Good thing this is Canada!”
Pictorial warnings are intended to explain product dangers in a universal symbol or picture that can be universally understood even by people who cannot read or who speak and read a different language.
Unfortunately, coherently explaining product risks usually is hard to do in a single image. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but product warnings can be better explained in words (unfortunately, many litigation risk-averse product makers insist on using the full thousand or more, but that’s a different issue).
Here we have a pictorial warning about hair rubberbands. As the written part of the pictured warning shows (all thumbnails are expandable), they can present a choking hazard. But what if one can’t read the printed warning? That’s where the symbol warning against use by children under three comes in.
But couldn’t they come up with a universal picture that actually looks like a child under three, rather than a melancholy pumpkin? Also, not to get too picky, but do we really need to warn about zero-year-olds?
Getting in the Halloween spirit, I was in a drug store reading warning labels for Halloween products and came across this Grease Makeup. Looks like fun stuff, right?
Not as fun as you might think. First, don’t expect to end up looking like this clown.
Why? Because–Bozo warning alert–the instructions on the back of this one quarter-inch thick transparent package clearly state: ”COSTUMES AND ACCESSORIES SHOWN IN PHOTO NOT INCLUDED.”
But things get worse. Ready to have some fun applying your grease makeup? Like the thought of sporting red or maybe yellow eyes at the costume party? Forget about it. How about pink or purple? Scratch those too. Maybe green? Orange? No, No. All of those colors are banned from eye-area application. And don’t even think about going with blue, green or purple lips:
Have a happy, complicated Halloween with your grease makeup!
One of my colleagues was amused and bemused by this warning sticker inside the shower stall of her hotel room during a vacation to Norway:
The bathtub can be slippery. Anti-slip mats are available at our housekeeper.
Please dial 7000.
Hmm, if the bathtubs are slippery, shouldn’t they already have mats in them? And isn’t it a bit too late to be dialing up the housekeeper for a mat once you’re already in the bath?
Courtesy of a rising 2L at the University of Memphis law school, we have another failed attempt at conveying warnings and instructions via pictorial symbols.
In evaluating pictorial warnings, remember that the principal purpose of pictorial warnings is to convey warnings to people who can’t read or read in a different language. If people could read the warnings, we wouldn’t need the pictures.
Thus, interpreting only the pictures, here’s what a non-English speaking park visitor might take away from these four frames of a sign warning about how to handle mountain lion attacks:
1. Top left: “After lion has bitten off your right hand, run AWAY from the lion. Follow the arrow. Never run toward a mountain lion.”
2. Top right: “Once you realize you can’t outrun a mountain lion and are handless, say the hell with it and give up.”
3. Bottom left: “If accompanied by children, offer them to the lion.”
4. Bottom right: ”Don’t know. Can’t read it. That’s why I needed the pictures!”
When manufacturers overwarn, it dilutes the impact of warnings that consumers really need to know about. Over-warning is a serious problem — not to be confused with global-warming, which is also really bad.
Given some of the silly and dangerous ways consumers misuse products, one can have sympathy for manufacturers that don’t want to take chances. I’ve done consulting work writing product warnings and instructions for manufacturers and confess that I advise erring on the side of giving too many warnings.
But to waste space and, more importantly, short consumer attention span on worthless warnings that lead with telling consumers to:
1. Read these instructions.
2. Keep these instructions.
3. Heed all warnings.
4. Follow all instructions
… is just stupid. The most important warnings should come first. Even diligent consumers are going to tune out quickly reading these warnings (which led to the headline, a reversal of the famous line from Jerry McGuire, “You had me at hello”). No manufacturer has been or ever will be held liable for failing to warn consumers to read and keep their warnings and instructions.
Meanwhile, the list of warnings for this apparently incredibly dangerous alarm clock went on much longer, but I cut it off.
A Facebook friend posted this picture of a candy wrapper, featuring the warning:
MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF PEANUTS AND HUMAN FLESH
Not sure where he got it or if it’s real. It doesn’t look Photoshopped (but it’s hard to tell sometimes).
Human tissue does sometimes end up in food products during the manufacturing process, probably more often than we would want to know.
My favorite “flesh in food” cases is a 94-year-old Mississippi Supreme Court case where the plaintiff found a human toe in a plug of chewing tobacco. That’s one way to “kick” the habit. Har, har.
The plaintiff couldn’t prove how the toe got there, so he invoked res ipsa loquitur. For non-legals, res ipsa loquitur is a procedural device that allows a tort plaintiff to get his case to a jury despite a lack of specific evidence that the defendant was negligent if: (1) the injury-causing event is of a nature that ordinarily would not happen unless someone was negligent; and (2) the defendant had control of the instrumentality at the time the negligence most likely occurred.
I have always loved the Mississippi court’s terse analysis of the first element: ”We can imagine no reason why, with ordinary care, human toes could not be left out of chewing tobacco, and if toes are found in chewing tobacco, it seems to us that somebody has been very careless.” Pillars v. R.J. Reynolds, 78 So. 365 (1918).
But is human flesh getting into food really such an extensive problem that manufactuters feel obligated to warn about it? This is either a fishy warning or our food supply and worker safety programs are in worse shape than believed. Or, a third possibility is that California passed a law.
The goal in crafting a pictorial product warning is to come up with a picture that can be universally understood, even by people who speak different languages or are illiterate. But it’s darned difficult to capture most warnings in the form of a simple drawing.
Case in point: this warning on a 3M paint-fumes mask. You’ve seen or used these before. They are paper masks held to one’s face with rubber bands that go behind the head.
But what is this pictorial warning trying to say? The accompanying text helps, but, again, the whole idea of pictorial warnings is that they are supposed to be understandable even by people who can’t read the written warning.
So just concentrate on the picture itself and ask, ”What is it saying?
Here are possibilities that come to mind:
– “Large Smoking Area, Invite Your Friends”
– “Help, My Lungs Recently Exploded”
– “Dude, That Is One Totally Awesome Bong”
– “REALLY BAD Smog Alert”
– “Short Pants Are Caused By Clouds”
And what’s up with the limitation in the written warning that the respirator helps keep “non-harmful dusts and certain particles out of your nose, mouth and lungs”? Isn’t the whole point of buying them to keep out harmful dust and particles?
iTunes software is good stuff for downloading the latest crappola that the recording industry is outputting (editorial comment courtesy of a music lover still stuck in the 60s and 70s), but just remember that iTunes software is:
[N]ot intended for use in the operation of nuclear facilities, aircraft navigation or communication systems, air traffic control systems, life support machines or other equipment in which the failure of the Apple software system could lead to death, personal injury, or severe physical or environmental damage.
Here’s an interesting warning, from a former student at Florida International University College of Law.
The warning is on the outside of a toilet compartment on a recreational boat. I think I know what it means, but surely they could have worded it better.
Law student and boyfriend holding hands on romantic date night reading product warning labels at Walmart.
Covering products liability in Torts and made a point of explaining what utter fun reading product warning labels can be, saying:
“In fact, if you’re looking for a really great night out, take your date to Walmart. Hold hands and spend the evening strolling the aisles reading product warning labels. It’s a guaranteed good time!”
One student and her boyfriend took me up on the idea. She sent along this great PowerPoint presentation of their romantic Walmart Product Warning Label Date.
What kind of a consumer would voluntarily ingest a hot sauce so dangerous they must first sign a disclaimer/waiver acknowledging ”serious injury can be caused if applied to skin, eyes or and exposed body parts,” and waiving their legal rights in the event of injury, while also certifying they are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of signing? (Click on thumbnail to expand.)
Answer: The only answers coming readily to mind are an unreasonable consumer or one with an asbestos-lined stomach. If this product–a hot sauce manufactured by a burrito company and called, among other names, Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally–is dangerous enough to require a disclaimer before consumption, should it be marketed at all?
The sauce is reportedly 700 times hotter than tobasco sauce and 300 times hotter than a jalapeno. Looking forward to trying it before my next emergency colon surgery.
But believe it or not, there are much hotter sauces available! The heat of hot sauces is measured in Scoville units. Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally rates at 1.5 million Scoville units. The hottest sauce, according to a site that tracks these things, is Blair’s 16 Million Reserve, which rates 16 million Scoville units, or 3200 times hotter than a jalapeno.
Is there any other consumable product for which buyers must sign a disclaimer/waiver?
The waiver of rights may or may not be valid depending on the accuracy of the risk information in the disclaimer. If hot sauces of this nature were determined to be “unreasonably dangerous,” the waiver would not be upheld. Every product carries a warranty of merchantability that the product is fit for the ordinary purposes for which such products are used; here, human consumption.
But since several different brands of super-hot sauces exist, maybe they really aren’t dangerous. Maybe the disclaimer is even part of a marketing plan, since boasting the hottest of hot sauces appears to be a selling point.
Professor and editor of the Torts Prof blog, Bill Childs, posted this picture of a warning sign at the new Harry Potter attraction at the Islands of Adventures theme park in Orlando. He noted that he particularly enjoyed that even the warnings are themed, as this one comes from the “Department of Magical Transportation.”
See my ABA Journal column on Hogwarts Torts, suggesting that no student in the history of education has been subjected to as many torts as poor Harry Potter.
Glittery makeup is good stuff, for Halloween, your next glam band, or just for fun. And you can see how much fun this woman on the packaging is having with it. Go ahead and click on the image to expand it, so you can get the full realization of what an awesome opportunity this stuff presents to have a good time.
But wait, what’s that warning in small print on the back of the packaging?
Do not place glitter near the eye area.
Longtime Lawhaha.com supporter Lihwei Lin sent this picture of a sticker inside a taxicab operating in the Pacific Rim.
Customers in these cabs must have been especially happy to reach their destinations. How could they not be? On entering the vehicle they are warned (italics added):
SAFETY-FIRST Please put on your seatbelt prepare for accident.
Out and about? Thirsty? Stop. Find a convenience store or a restaurant or even a liquor store. But don’t stoop (har har) to drinking out of the toilet. In case you forget, just read the warning sticker:
RECYCLED FLUSH WATER
UNSAFE FOR DRINKING
This warning makes sense because a plug-in night-light is, after all an electrical device that could be dangerous. But it still sounds funny to have a warning on a Mickey Mouse product that says:
CAUTION: THIS IS NOT A TOY and is not intended for use by children.
Here’s a great product to grow aragonite crystals just by adding white distilled vinegar. It’s hard to imagine a consumer product with greater social utility.
The packaging contains a seemingly silly warning that:
WARNING: Eating rocks may lead to broken teeth!
Maybe the rocks resemble candy, in which case it wouldn’t be such a silly warning. On the other hand, anyone who would mistake the rocks for candy probably wouldn’t be old enough to read the warning.
… or any other part of the body they do not cover.
Okay, there are unusual warnings and just plain stupid ones:
Shin pads can not protect any part of the body they do not cover.
Have a dog? How’s he feeling? If he’s down in the dumps, maybe he’d enjoy a nice outdoor session chasing a Frisbee Flexible Flying Disc for Dogs.
But don’t expect it to change his mood completely by making the common consumer mistake that a plastic disc is a therapeutic device. As the manufacturer cautions across the top in all capital letters:
THIS IS A DOG TOY … IT IS NOT A THERAPEUTIC DEVICE
Lower down it warns:
DO NOT THROW IT DIRECTLY AT YOUR DOG
Why? Because he’s like to experience feelings of rejection and anxiety and require therapy, but as they just told you, it’s not a therapeutic device.
Rowenta felt the need to caution purchasers of its irons to:
Never iron clothes while they are being worn.
Sounds crazy, right? But when I asked my first-year law school class, filled with exceptionally intelligent people, if any of them had tried to iron clothes while wearing them, a lot of them nodded affirmatively.
Silly Putty! What a great product. It’s may be the most successful product ever invented that lacks virtually any social utility. True, you can bend it around and pick up newsprint on it, but is it actually useful for anything?
Hey, I know, how about using it for ear plugs?
Nope, that’s no good. The packaging warns:
Not intended for use as ear plugs.
This warning for a Slinky is mildly amusing because Slinkys just don’t seem very dangerous, but it’s the instructions that crack me up.
First, the warning:
CAUTION: Do not use in moving vehicle. Do not throw coils out any window. Keep Slinky away from face and eyes.
Now the instructions, and pay attention because they are complicated:
TO BOUNCE SLINKY UP AND DOWN: Hold a few coils tightly in one hand, allowing rest of Slinky to hang down. Now in a bouncing motion, move hand slowly up and down.
So that’s how you do it. I never could figure that out. I was always holding it up. Duh.
Here’s a nice wood library ladder from the Eddie Bauer Home website. It appears to be a high quality ladder, as long as you remember that it is:
Not for use as a ladder
This is my favorite wacky warning of all time. Usually, if you ponder a warning, you can figure out why it’s there, even seemingly ridiculous warnings. So, for example, a warning on a heavy-duty power drill to not use it as a dental drill is probably there because some wayward consumer actually attempted to use it that way.
But I’ve never been able to conceive of a reason–even an unreasonable fear of lawsuits-based reason–why this manufacturer of home carbon monoxide detectors felt compelled to warn purchasers that the product is not a substitute for life insurance. If you have any ideas, send them along. Here’s the warning:
Carbon Monoxide detectors are not a substitute for life insurance. Though these detectors warn against increasing CO levels, we do not warrant or imply in any way that they will protect lives from CO poisoning. Homeowners and rents must still insure their lives.
There’s another issue with this warning. Why would any consumer want to buy a carbon monoxide detector that the manufacturer is not willing to warrant, or even “imply in any way,” will protect them from CO poisoning (the advertised purpose and utility of the product).
Shoot, I read this instruction on a new blender too late:
DO NOT expect your Blender to replace all of your kitchen appliances.
I had already put my stove, microwave, dishwasher and fridge on Craigslist before I saw it.
- Don’t jump in front of the train. On second thought, just do it.
A funny juxtaposition of a warning in a Hong Kong subway, directly above a Nike ad.
The translated warning at the top says (yellow highlighting):
DANGER! JUMPING INTO THE TUNNEL IS FORBIDDEN
The Nike ad below suggests one reconsider.
Here are the warnings from a dust-mist-fumes respirator mask from a home improvement store. It’s a good product, but just be aware that:
This respirator does not supply oxygen.
Use only in atmospheres with adequate oxygen to sustain human life.
Another close call, saved by a product warning. Do not bother packing this mask for your upcoming trip through the solar system.
(All photos are expandable thumbnails.)
Here’s a warning for a power drill, the kind you buy at Home Depot for the purpose of making holes in wood, metal and concrete.
But read up before using, people, because:
This product is not intended for use as a dental drill or in medical applications.
That last part threw me because I have this pain in my side and also this really nice 18-volt hammer drill. I was thinking, why not see what’s going on it there? I’m glad I read the warning first.
Most people enjoy this warning for the seemingly silly dental drill caution, but I also like this part:
Do not allow familiarity gained from frequent use of your rotary tool to become commonplace.
I know what they’re trying to say, and they do clear it up in the unbolded sentence that follows. It’s an issue worthy of addressing in product warnings because tons of “cognitive failure” research shows that humans are prone to mental slips when performing tasks, and, perhaps counterintuitively, that the more expert a person becomes in performing a task, the more likely he or she is to commit a mental slip. Familiarity and confidence breed inattention.
So it’s a well-intended warning, but the bolded sentence doesn’t say what it means. Essentially, it says don’t let familiarity with the tool become commonplace, which is a non-sequitur.
In my Products Liability course, we have “Stupid Warning Day,” where each student is required to bring in an unusual warning label. When I was teaching at a law school in San Francisco, a student brought in this warning for a set of “Lock Up Your Lover Furry Handcuffs.”
It’s actually a pretty good warning though:
WARNING: Place an extra key in a safe place to avoid unnecessary discomfort, embarrassment and any need to call a locksmith or a police officer.
Sounds like a warning one might expect to find on one of the Weasley twins’ products in the Harry Potter franchise, but this disclaimer on a pack of incense comes from the Muggle world.
First, the incense promises a magical world of mystic knowledge and ecstasy, but the small print at the bottom takes it all back:
Sold as curio only, no magical effects are guaranteed.
To which they might want to add:
If you’re experiencing magical effects, it’s probably not from the incense, but from that other product you’re using the incense to cover up.
Law students learn to avoid risk, in part because of what is known as the “availability heuristic”–a mental shortcut people use to unreliably evaluate the probability of risks based on whether they can remember the event ever happening before.
Law students and lawyers tend to over-estimate risk because they can always imagine a situation (an availability) in every context of life where things went wrong. In all the cases they read, things went wrong, which is why they became cases. Their constant exposure to Murphy’s Law causes them to become very adept at (even obsessive about) spotting and avoiding risks in their own lives.
Here a careful student of mine studying in the law library with her laptop took the extra-prudent precaution of posting a warning sign near to the cord and plug to avoid a tripping injury risk.
One of my favorite types of silly warnings is the kind that can’t possibly be followed. This is a great example, “borrowed” from the seat-back pocket of Boeing B-727 airliner:
If you are sitting in an exit row and you can not read this card, … please tell a crew member.
Imagine what airlines would write if they really thought we couldn’t read any of it:
“Meanwhile, while you’re sitting there unable to read this card hoping we’ll come by with the drink cart before you pass out, let us tell you how much we enjoy treating you like cattle, bossing you around, losing your luggage, starving you into submission, and, when we can, smashing your heads against the overhead compartment, accidental like. Customer service? Ha, haa. That’s a good one. Too bad you can’t read this, SUCKERS!”
Much products liability litigation is directed at whether a product warning was reasonably clear in explaining the actual risk of the product. A subsidiary argument involves pictorial warnings. Pictorial warnings have the benefit of being understood by persons who read in different languages or who are illiterate. Their downside is that they often are unclear because it is difficult to capture most product warnings in a simple picture or symbol.
But I think everyone would agree that the graphic pictorial warning on this vehicle with a rotating-shaft device clearly indicates this is a risk a reasonable person would avoid.
Just one question: Is it okay to use the stairs?
Not surprisingly, since they are full of law professors and law students, law schools are pretty safe places. Be hard to overlook these warnings at the University of Memphis law school.
Wait, what is that in the background? Looks like a dead body. Maybe just a tired 1L.
From what I hear, Viagra is a high-quality product, but like all prescription products, it’s not for everyone. Specifically, Viagra is NOT FOR NEWBORNS.
This is the kind of warning people read and think “Those crazy [fill in the blank: lawyers, consumers, manufacturers ...].” Who needs to be told that Viagra is not for newborns?
Healthcare providers. That’s right. Turns out that sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, has been found to be useful in preventing ”rebound pulmonary hypertension” in infants.
But since it’s not FDA-approved for such a use, one can understand why Pfizer, the manufacturer, might feel a need to warn against this foreseeable use or misuse of the product.
(Since I posted this, I found out my 93-year-old mom is feeding Viagra to her female dog on her veterinarian’s instructions for some kind of pulmonary condition. This comes out in a phone conversation where the topic thread started like this: ”Have you heard about this product they have for … oh, what’s it called? I forget, but it’s for men so they can keep having sex forever.” “Uh, yeah, mom, I’ve heard of it.”)