Some weeks back, the good folks at Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW) announced the winners of their annual Wacky Warning Label Contest. M-LAW doesn’t run this contest just for their entertainment and ours. They do it to show just how far manufacturers and service providers have to go these days to protect themselves from lawsuits brought by incorrigible accident-prone folk who are plagued from birth by self-inflicted abrasions, cuts, contusions, fractures and unspeakable traumas—not to mention the assorted body parts that turn up missing.
Stated more politely (see www.mlaw.org
), the organization’s mission is “to eliminate the many negative effects that lawsuit abuse has on families, job providers and communities.”
Here are some examples of winning products from previous contests and their warnings:
• Toilet brush—“Do not use for personal hygiene.”
• Child’s scooter—“This product moves when used.”
• Medical thermometer—“Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally.”
• Dishwasher—“Do not allow children to play in dishwasher.”
• Fake log, intended to be burned in a fireplace—“Caution—Risk of Fire.”
• 35 mm camera—“When operating the selector dial with your eye to the viewfinder, care should be taken not to put your finger in your eye accidentally.”
• Snowblower—“Do not use snowblower on the roof.”
This year, the first-place winner is a heat gun. For those of you who are unfamiliar with heat guns, allow me to explain: a heat gun is a device that blows out a concentrated stream of air that’s about 1,000 degrees. I’ve used heat guns to burn paint off wood and metal, peel old vinyl tile off the floor and tighten up heat-shrink tubing on electronic components. The manufacturer of this particular heat gun has attached a warning label that says: “Do not use this tool as a hair dryer.”
This makes a certain amount of sense, because a heat gun does look like a hair dryer. It looks like a badass nuclear-powered high dryer that only a fool would point at her head, but it still looks like a hair dryer. Presumably, if somebody were using a heat gun to melt some paint in a bathroom, then took a break and left the heat gun sitting by the sink, there could be trouble. If somebody got out of the shower, turned on the heat gun and pointed it at her head, she could set her hair on fire and get a nasty burn on her scalp in just a few seconds. So, for the first time since I’ve been following the Wacky Warning Label contest, I’ve got to say that this warning label ain’t so wacky.
This year’s runner-up is a kitchen knife that comes with two warnings: “Never try to catch a falling knife!” and “Do not reach blindly for a knife. Reach deliberately for the handle.”Well, I say that anybody who’d reach blindly into the knife drawer is the same kind of person who’d reach blindly into the garbage disposal. There’s nothing you can do for such people. Trouble’s going to haunt them all their days. Bless their hearts, they’ll probably fall out of the coffin at their own graveside service.
As for catching a falling knife, I’m ashamed to say I’ve done it. When I was just a little guy, my aunt Bonnie brought me a souvenir Genuine Indian Throwing Knife from Cherokee, N.C. For days, I practiced throwing that thing at the chinaberry tree in my backyard, and I never could get it to stick. Feeling all down and disheartened, I decided to simplify my routine and see if I could get the knife to stick in the ground. The first time I tried it, I stuck the knife perfectly in the second toe of my right foot. Lucky for me, I missed all the important tendons, muscles, ligaments, arteries and such. Every time I pull on my right sock, the scar reminds me that I have a fair bit of knucklehead in me, and I’d best not forget it.
The third-place winner was discovered in my home state of South Carolina, just a couple hundred miles from the place where I stuck the knife in my toe. At a bar on the South Carolina coast, a tourist came across a cocktail napkin that held the image of the waterways around Hilton Head Island. The napkin offered these words of warning: “Caution: not to be used for navigation.”
As a native South Carolinian, I want to take issue with this particular warning. You outlander tourists who were thinking about using a cocktail napkin as a navigation chart, hear my plea: go ahead and do it—in a tiny little boat, on a blustery day. You don’t need a radio, you don’t need much fuel and you surely don’t need any flares, anchors or food. You just need, oh, about six cases of strong whiskey. Jump in the boat, start drinking and head southeast. That way lies the Bermuda Triangle.
(Warning: The above paragraph is satire, and very bad sailing advice. That said, you tourists go ahead and do it anyway.)