Why wacky warning labels are only printed in English

‘Only in America” was a phrase once used to measure pride in American ingenuity and the rule of law that’s provided the stability for businesses, inventors and entrepreneurs to succeed. Sadly, it’s now a measure of lawsuit fears unique to America that cost jobs and quality of life.

Where do we see the evidence first? Wacky warning labels.

The five wackiest warning labels in the United States were recently unveiled as part of the 14th annual Wacky Warning Label Contest sponsored by the Center for America.

Mark Stutzmann of Ann Arbor, Mich., found a warning label on a pen warning to keep the pen cap out of his mouth. Since he is bilingual, he quickly noticed something peculiar.

The instruction manual for the pen was printed in four languages, but the most ridiculous warning was printed only in English. Not in French or German or Spanish.

It can obstruct breathing, the label cautioned. He didn’t need to translate the meaning of that: Don’t swallow the cap, dummy! But he thought it was odd the warning wasn’t translated into the other languages. Surely, people in other countries are as prone to accidents as Americans.

However, one thing that doesn’t happen in other countries, even the English-speaking countries of England and Australia, is lawsuit abuse.

It’s a sad fact that there is a lawsuit filed every two seconds in the United States, and many are frivolous lawsuits filed by a personal injury lawyer hoping to strike it rich. The cost of defending oneself against a frivolous lawsuit is so high that nine out of 10 lawsuits in America are settled out of court. Frivolous lawsuits are a form of legalized blackmail that pile costs on American consumers and discourage job creation and innovation.

Consider two other label finalists. An ordinary dust mask, the kind you might wear while you are sanding or painting, warns: “does not supply oxygen.” Alex Saenz of Dallas found that one when he bought a plain white dust mask for a couple of dollars at a hardware store with the warning in the instruction booklet.

Products come with so many warnings these days there simply isn’t enough room on the product to print them.

Another wacky label in our contest was found on a hot tub cover by Archer Leupp of Peshtigo, Wis. It warned him, in big bold letters, that to avoid drowning, he should “Remove safety cover from spa when in use.” Duh!

I would like to travel to Europe or Asia to see if the hot tub covers there have this warning label, but in all honesty, I don’t have to. Reporters from all over the world come to America fairly regularly to laugh at these labels and to interview us about our contest.

Every reporter has told us they don’t have these odd warnings where they live, and they want to know: Why do Americans need to be warned about the obvious?

They know that Americans have given the world the iPhone and many other technical marvels, so they know we aren’t idiots. What they soon learn, however, is that America’s civil-justice system is swamped with lawsuits that make these warnings necessary.

We have so many lawsuits in the U.S. that according to the Pacific Research Institute, Americans would save $589 billion every year if our tort costs were simply comparable in size with other industrialized countries. Imagine if that money was spent on job creation or innovation instead!

Bob Dorigo Jones is senior fellow at the Center for America and author of “Remove Child Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever.”

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