Have you ever read the warning labels on things you buy at the store? For decades, the warning label on mattresses has caused concern because it says “do not remove under penalty of law.” Nowhere does it say that warning is intended for the companies selling mattresses and not the mattress owner, but that’s the case. Or the weird things that end up on warning labels, like the “May contain eggs” label on egg cartons.
There are dozens of websites on the internet that feature actual warning labels that might be considered weird or odd, like Smosh. Forbes magazine has even gotten into the mix with an article they did a few years ago about stupid warning labels. The truth is, though, there are real stories behind those warning labels. Most have been added as the result of a lawsuit against the manufacturer, where the consumer won, even if they were at fault.
Susan is a paralegal in Hartford, Connecticut. In the 1980s, she was a paralegal for one of the larger toy companies, which also manufactured liners for above-ground pools. In one case, a 30-year-old man, who had been a swimming instructor and lifeguard for years, had replaced the plastic liner in his five-foot above-ground pool with one to fit a six-foot pool, causing wrinkles on the bottom of the pool. He knew full well it was dangerous to dive into any water under six feet and even then, it’s questionable. Nevertheless, when he had a party at his home, his desire to dive into his pool became greater as the amount of alcohol he had increased. Finally, around 11:30 at night, he took three dives into the pool. On the first two dives, nothing happened. On the third dive, his hands caught on one of the wrinkles, his arms were pushed back and he hit the bottom of the pool head first, resulting in a spinal fracture and complete paralysis.
While it’s sad he injured himself, he wasn’t prepared to let it go with taking personal responsibility. He actually sued the manufacturer because there were no warning labels on the pool liner against diving into an above-ground pool. Susan said she worked several months on that case; it went to trial and the jury found in favor of the man and against the manufacturer. Common sense or the lack thereof never entered into the discussion. She said the jury only looked at who was going to pay for the man for the rest of his life – the manufacturer or the government – and found in favor of the man.
What about the warning label on coffee cups at fast-food restaurants that says, “Warning: Coffee is hot?” That came out of the lawsuit filed by a woman who got scalded by coffee she bought at a popular fast-food drive through. She said no one warned her the coffee was hot. Again, no personal responsibility was taken by the consumer and the jury found in favor of the woman because the restaurant had deep pockets and could pay for her needed plastic surgery.
The theory that corporations have deep pockets has impacted both businesses and consumers. When someone gets injured, they will look at everyone possible to sue, with the encouragement of their attorneys. The idea is that the more people you sue, the more likely you’ll get at least something out of the lawsuit. Most often, juries will find in favor of the consumer, even if the consumer didn’t use common sense or any sense at all, because of the belief that corporations have all the money in the world and, besides, who does it hurt?
Corporations spend millions each year on liability insurance to cover them in case someone gets hurt, even if they were using a product incorrectly. They have entire departments that do nothing but test products to see how many parts the product will break into when dropped, whether those parts are sharp and how many ways someone could get hurt with the product. And they add those warning labels that may seem silly to most but are in direct relationship to a lawsuit. It adds to the bottom-line cost of manufactured goods and services, so in the end, everyone gets hurt by these lawsuits.
Make sure to read all warning labels when you buy something; someone went to a lot of work to come up with that. And remember – things happen. Sometimes, there is no one responsible, or you are responsible. There isn’t always a bad guy with deep pockets that should be held liable for things that go wrong.