Has anyone else noticed the increase in those fine-print legal liability disclaimers at the bottom of TV commercials? And they seem to be getting more and more ridiculous.
You really have to look for them, but once you start, you find a lot of them. A few spring to mind:
a car commercial where the car comes out on stage like a rock star. The audience goes wild, and then the car goes out and crowd surfs on the audience. The fine print says, “Please do not drive your car on people.”
a Jeep commercial where the guy starts getting poor TV reception, drives up on the roof of his A-frame house (the Jeep parked at an obviously impossible angle) and adjusts the antenna. The fine print says something to the effect of, “Do not try this.”
The Visa commercial with a young couple, the wife being preggers, looking for just the right shade of paint, presumably for the new baby’s room. After finding just the right hue, they are shown face-painted at a football game, the pregnant woman screaming savagely. The fine print? “Do not paint your face with house paint.”
Can’t remember the product on this one, but a guy in a suit is walking down the sidewalk, sees kids playing on one of those slip-and-slide water things. He whips off his jacket and goes for a slide. The fine print? Something like, “Adults should not attempt to use water slide devices. They are designed for children. Serious neck and head injuries may result. Trained professional in controlled conditions.”
My question: Hasn’t this gotten a little out-of-hand? Did someone lose a big lawsuit sometime, somewhere, in which some cretin was injured attempting to replicate something obviously fake that he or she saw in a television commercial?
Does this fine print really cover the advertising company’s ass?
Who could win a lawsuit with a claim as outlandish as, “I saw it in a TV commercial, so I thought I could do it?” Then again, a jury aquitted O.J.
The best one I ever saw was for REEBOK sneakers-when they came out with the pump (inflatable bladder around the ankle). It showed a gur bungee jumping in his new REEBOKs, and the cord holding him-the guys wearning BRAND X fell out of the cord. The disclaimer-“do not attempt this”
I prefer to believe that in at least some instances the company is kidding. A little self-parody of all the disclaimers they actually do have to run. Like the SUV commercial in which the disclaimer reads something like, “No parking space is that important. Well, OK, it is, but please don’t do this.”
That said, after some people tried to hold up Pepsico for a Harrier Jet, I couldn’t blame companies for an abundance of caution, either.
I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!
I hate to blame the lawyers (it seems so easy) but…
Our litigious society has generated so many cases of people being compensated – almost rewarded – for their own stupidity, that the manufacturers and advertisers have been forced to produce the most inane warnings on their products in an effort to avoid or minimize lawsuits. Remember the lady whose McDonald’s coffee was too hot? McDs might have saved themselves a bundle if their cups were stencilled with “Product is hot enough to blister skin - handle with care.” yes, it seems obvious enough, but…
My favourite is a warning on the toner cartridges I bought for my laser printer: “Do not eat!” And why did they come up with this warning instead of “Do not insert in rectal orifice”? Well, because someone tried to eat some toner and got sick. So now we have to warn the bozos not to eat that black, unappealing powder. The rectal orifice warning is just a matter of time…
Computers in the future may weigh no more than 15 tons.
-Popular Mechanics, 1949
Combine the general stupidity that seems prevalent amongst the public with this sentiment that it’s OK to screw big companies (see, eg., the Microsoft threads) and the sense that if someone is rich, their wealth should be distributed to those less rich (see, eg., numerous threads on this point) and the reality is that the venire, the jury pool, is a highly volitile and unpredictable creature.
You just don’t know how a jury might react, and with the “Hey, this company has millions, what the hell – let’s give her a few and call it even,” philosophy, companies are terrified about getting to trial. So most claims can get nuisance value, if nothing else. A claim that can survive a summary judgement motion – that is, a claim that has some issue of fact, however far-fetched – is worth big bucks – because the jury might give out even bigger bucks.
So we end up with children’s Superman costumes that say, “Warning: costume will not allow wearer to fly.”
It is a pity how few people know why the jury returned the verdict that they did in this case. The particular McDonalds in question had had numerous complaints in writing about the coffee being too hot and causing serious burns. Legally this is very important, because McDonalds cannot claim they were not aware of the situation.
Also, I don’t think people understand how seriously she was injured by this coffee. She didn’t say “Ow, thats hot, I’m going to sue!” she said “Well, I’ve had 3 skin grafts and its still not right, I’m going to sue.”
Then how about (wish I’d saved the newspaper clipping for this one) the lady who sued a hospital because she claimed the CAT scan they gave her destroyed her psychic powers – and she won. Should that hospital now post signs outside Radiology warning that their invisible rays may affect your unproven powers, to avoid future lawsuits? And if her powers were real, shouldn’t she have known that this would happen?
My point was that there are many suits that are brought and won over “dangers” that would appear to be self-evident. Must we rely on the courts and the manufacturers to make everything in the world safe for even the most careless individual? Do we not have any responsibility for our own actions?
I have to agree. We get many ridiculous suits each year. People just assume that if they were hurt in the vicinity of your product or property, that you should pay. I don’t even pretend to know where they got this attitude, but I chalk it up to a lack of personal responsibility and socialist sentiments ( the plaintiff is so poor and teh defendant is soooo rich, they really should pay something.)
And as for the McD lady, even if her injury was very severe, that does not change the negligence.Coffee is hot. If you spill it on your crotch you will get hurt.
Of course I can’t find it searching the message board, but there was an in-depth discussion here a few months ago, including some posts by someone familiar with the case. From what I recall, the lady had a legitimate case:
She received third degree burns- not just blisters, etc. This involves charred skin, and needed several skin grafts. Have you ever needed surgery after spilling coffee on yourself?
She was not driving with the coffee.
That particular McD’s had had repeated complaints and I think had even been cited by local authorities for having their coffee much too hot.
Anyway, I think the resultant warning about hot coffee is completely useless. Of course the coffee’s hot! If McD’s policy was to have the coffee as hot as in the lady’s lawsuit, then they need a warning like “Caution, coffee is MUCH hotter than normal hot coffee”. Of course, normally their coffee isn’t THAT hot.
That said, I think there is an enormous amount of litigation for insane things. I heard a rumor that somewhere between 50% and 90% of a ladder’s cost is in liability insurance. I don’t think there is room on a ladder for any more warnings!
I think if there was better counter-suit legislation some of this might go away. Ok, you fell off your ladder while trying to balance on a bowling pin on the top rung, and you are suing us? We win the suit, we counter sue, and for the rest of your life your wages are garnished. I’ve never heard of this happening, though it is supposedly possible (apparently juries do not favor it) - yet another argument for abolishing juries entirely. That however, is a topic for GD.