Contest takes aim at frivolous suits
Wacky warnings lead people to disregard warnings, a group says.
DETROIT (AP) -- Don't clean your kids in the washing machine. Don't dry your cell phone in the microwave. And be sure not to read the phone book while driving. Those are among the winning entries in this year's Wacky Warning Label Contest, run by an anti-lawsuit group.
Backers of the right to sue have a warning of their own -- don't be so quick to poke fun at labels, which help save lives. They say the contest is part of an effort to pass laws that shield businesses from liability for those they hurt.
The Wacky Warning contest winners were chosen from about 150 nominations received by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said the group's president, Robert B. Dorigo Jones. The group picked five finalists, and callers to WOMC-FM's Dick Purtan show chose the winners.
The top vote-getter was a warning tag from a front-load washing machine.
"DO NOT put any person in this washer," it read.
Bob Wilkinson, the owner of a coin-operated laundry in Northville Township, a Detroit suburb, won 500 for the submission.
Wilkinson said he always wondered why the Huebsch Originators triple-load washer carried the warning and was told it was because of a suit over a death of someone inside a running washing machine.
"I've had little children who come in here and get into one of the dryers or the triple loaders," said Wilkinson, 66. "But nobody turns it on."
Eagerness to sue
Americans are too eager to sue when something goes wrong, regardless of who's at fault, he said Friday.
"That company's trying to protect itself against some vicious lawsuit," he said.
A spokeswoman for the manufacturer said the washer warning label is far from wacky.
"A front loader is just at the right height -- speaking now as a mother and not a corporate spokeswoman -- for a 4-year-old," said Patti Andresen-Shew, marketing director for Alliance Laundry Systems LLC in Ripon, Wis.
She said there have been lawsuits filed against companies -- "fortunately not ours" -- after small children got into coin-operated laundry equipment and an older child started the machine.
Argues for need for warnings
The Center for Justice and Democracy, a group fighting legislation to limit the right to sue, said warning labels play a vital role in protecting the public.
"Often, it is only through lawsuits brought by injured consumers that manufacturers have been forced to place critical warning labels on dangerous products, saving millions of lives and preventing innumerable injuries," it said in a statement.
Warning labels are important, Dorigo Jones agreed, but he said unwarranted lawsuits lead to labels so bizarre that people ignore them.
"People are more likely to get hurt as lawsuit-driven labels get longer and more absurd," the contest organizer said.
Dorigo Jones wrote the 2007 book "Remove Child Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever."
Second place went to a warning on a personal watercraft that said, "Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level."
There was a tie for third place between a statement on a Super Lotto ticket that said, "Do not iron," and a warning on a cell phone that said, "Don't try to dry your phone in a microwave oven."
Honorable mention went to a telephone directory with the cover statement, "Please do not use this directory while operating a moving vehicle."