Image: Car with sun shade
David Burton  /  Alamy
The label on the inside of reflective car sun shades advises that youshouldn't drive with them in place. How could you?
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updated 3/3/2011 7:34:20 AM ET 2011-03-03T12:34:20

Our society doesn't think much of the average consumer.

To wit: Only a moron would try to wash her daughter in a washing machine; or shake hands with the business end of a chainsaw; or light a match to check the contents of a gas tank.

And yet manufacturers still go to laughable lengths to protect their customers from harm, bombarding them with ridiculous warning labels or stunningly obvious explanations of how their products work. Why else would a carton of eggs actually say that the product may contain eggs?

Forbes.com slideshow: 25 stunningly dumb warning labels

The plaintiff's bar has plenty to do with this silly — and costly — trend. Sham product-liability cases can rack up very real damages. In 2007 the median jury award in product liability cases was just north of $1.9 million, estimates Jury Verdict Research, which tracks results of personal-injury claims.

"America's legal system is based on the fact that there are some things so obvious that you don't need to warn about [them]," says Bob Dorigo Jones, senior fellow for the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the American legal system. Still, he adds, "it doesn't stop people from suing because the legal system has become a litigation lottery."

These cases basically boil down to two principles. First, companies must take care not to put customers in "unforeseen" danger, assuming that those customers act in a "reasonable" manner when using a product or service. (Repeatedly jabbing a bottle of Coca-Cola in your eye and suing for damages probably wouldn't fly in court.) Second, companies have to provide sufficient warning of "foreseeable" danger.

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Hence the proliferation of all those goofy warning labels on products and websites. Here are some of the most ridiculous we could find, some thanks to Dorigo Jones, author of "Remove Child Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever." He also hosts, in concert with the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, the annual Wacky Warning Label contest, which challenges Americans to find the most ridiculous warning labels in the country.

The 2010 winner: the Jabra Drive 'N' Talk, a Bluetooth speakerphone accessory for cell phones to be used in the car. The Drive 'N' Talk carries this contradictory warning label: "Never operate your speakerphone while driving." (So should it just be called the "Talk"?)

The 2009 winner was far less confusing, if totally unnecessary: A small tractor, made by New Holland, bore the admonition "Avoid Death."

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Here are some other doozies we found over the last four years:

Label: May cause drowsiness.
Product: Nytol sleeping pills.

Label: This product may contain nuts.
Product: Peanut M&Ms.

Label: Do not use while sleeping.
Product: Vidal Sassoon hair dryer

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Label: The Vanishing Fabric Marker should not be used as a writing instrument for signing checks or any legal documents.
Product: W.H. Collins' Vanishing Fabric Markers

Label: This product is not intended for use as a dental drill
Product: DremelMultipro's rotary tools

Label: This product moves when used.
Product: Razor scooter

Label (on website): Do not eat.
Product: Apple's iPod shuffle

Solid advice, always.

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© 2012 Forbes.com

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