Last fall the editors of the Vermont Law Review were kind enough to invite me to participate in a discussion on food and product labeling, part of a day-long conference “The Disclosure Debates” with panels on environmental, financial, and campaign disclosure. Other panelists included Christine DeLorme of the Federal Trade Commission, Division of Advertising Practices; Brian Dunkiel, Dunkiel Saunders; George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety; and David Zuckerman, Vermont State Senator and Farmer, Full Moon Farm.
Aside from my own segment above, you can find links to the other segments here. Plus: Environmental Health (VLS) summary of above panel.
“I guess you can never be too careful with your Christmas lights.” — @doctorwes
A few other highlights of Overlawyered Christmas coverage past:
- Claim: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” promotes bullying 
- “Cease this shouting!” cried Grinch, “From all Yule din desist!” But he’d Moved To The Nuisance and so, case dismissed [Art Carden 2010, original link]
- “Law firm offers divorce vouchers for Christmas” [U.K., 2009]
- Under the Christmas tree? Authorities penalize child care center in North Carolina after discovering plastic soldier figures on the premises, “reflect stereotyping and violence.” 
- “As you know, the eight maids-a-milking concept has been under heavy scrutiny by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A male/female balance in the workforce is being sought…….The two turtle doves’… romance during working hours could not be condoned. The positions are therefore eliminated.” ["Restructuring at the North Pole," 1999]
All it takes are a few warnings for the benefit of visitors who might not otherwise realize watery surfaces are wet [Chevy Chase, Maryland; courtesy Carter Wood]
Trying to order medications for a heart attack victim using electronic medical records, White Coat is frustrated to run into screen after screen preventing him from completing the order without addressing unlikely allergy issues (and thus protecting the hospital from liability):
For those of you who don’t know what alarm fatigue is, think of a car alarm. The first time you hear it going off, you run to your window to see who’s breaking into a car. Maybe you run to the window the second time and the third time, too. By the tenth time the alarm goes off, you’re thinking that the alarm is broken and someone needs to get that fixed. After about thirty false alarms, you’re feeling like going out there and busting up the car yourself – especially if the car alarm wakes you when you’re asleep.
It’s a concept with many applications beyond the emergency room setting, too, product warnings being just the start.
P.S. Dr. Westby Fisher has some related thoughts about the limits of trying to engineer physician responsibility through electronic records design.
Spotted by @thomasabowden:
Under the headline “Warning: Open Window + Gravity = Bad”, Kevin at Lowering the Bar comments: “I assume one of these is required on every window nowadays, or at least those that open.”
P.S. Reader Kim Schratweiser writes:
“We had new windows installed yesterday and I love this warning label:
“I was also pleased to note that this was on a removable sticker on the glass and I don’t have to look at warning labels when the window is open. The old windows had a warning label on the bottom of the upper sash, so when the window was open the label was clearly visible and quite ugly.”
Perhaps there should be a warning label on pharmaceutical warning labels, since they can induce many of the side-effect symptoms they warn against [Maggie Koerth-Baker, BoingBoing]
Would you want to play in it? [Kaboom via Free-Range Kids]
It probably isn’t accomplishing much: “Lawyers and experts on internet policy say no court case has ever turned on the presence or absence of such an automatic e-mail footer in America, the most litigious of rich countries.” [The Economist; & note comments that take issue with the above assertion, and also point out the uses of such footers in pre-trial discovery]
Ira Stoll notices a curious cautionary sign at a Washington, D.C. playground: “Designed for Children Ages 2 to 5 Years (18 months – 5 years for Canada).”
Australian writer David Broadbent explains to his daughter. [Free-Range Kids] Plus: Australian lawmaker told not to change lightbulb in his office.
Study after study finds no health effects to worry about, but the city by the Bay wants warnings anyway. [Bruce Nye, Ted Frank/PoL]
Wear appropriate protective clothing, “do not let this chemical enter the environment”, and if you come in contact with it, “immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing and shoes”. It’s ocean sand! MSDSs (Material Safety Data Sheets) are by and for lawyers: “Very few chemists, in my experience, spend much time with these forms at all, preferring to get their information from almost any other source.” [Derek Lowe via Virginia Postrel]
More: Interesting comments, including one on ionized water (if exposed, “flush the contaminated area with water”) and this from reader John: “Good news: if the sand is intended for use by children under 12, as of August 14 the sand itself will have to be permanently labeled with a batch number so it can be easily recalled.”
The warning on a bottle from Asda, a large U.K. grocery chain, is “indicative of a policy by supermarkets and food manufacturers to liberally stamp warnings on products to avoid legal complications.” [Daily Mail]
Gary Charbonneau had a gambling history, including substantial wins, which devolved into compulsive gambling in 2002. He blames this on his Parkinson’s disease medication, Mirapex, which he started taking in 1997. Mirapex changed its warning label to include reports of a correlation while Charbonneau was taking the drug; Charbonneau’s doctor kept prescribing the drug. Nevertheless, Charbonneau was able to persuade a jury that the failure to warn was what was responsible for his $200,000 gambling losses (much of which came from gambling illegally) and resulting marital troubles. The jury verdict even awarded $8 million in punitive damages, giving a whole new meaning to jackpot justice (though one would expect the trial court to reduce this substantially). The only press coverage of this lawsuit, aside from a handful of blogs (Pharmalot; TortsProf; InjuryBoard), is in an op-ed I wrote for today’s Examiner about the case and about how a Supreme Court case and Congressional legislation could affect it. (Theodore H. Frank, “Jackpot justice gets new meaning,” DC Examiner, Aug. 19).