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Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy
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WARNING! Do Not Read This Column While Standing on a Slippery Piece of Soap


Ever since that lady sued McDonald's for millions because her coffee was (surprise!) hot, companies have seemed more worried than ever about consumers coming after them.

To head off these pesky plaintiffs, high-paid lawyers are plastering warnings all over the place. You can't say you weren't warned when your coffee cup is emblazoned: "Caution! CONTENTS MAY SCALD YOU TO THE POINT WHERE THE SKIN IS DRIPPING LIKE WAX OFF YOUR FINGERS!"

The Wacky Warning Labels contest, sponsored by the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, ferrets out the best real-world examples, its 2009 winners including a cereal bowl emblazoned, "Always use this product with adult supervision," and an LCD panel that said, "Do not eat the LCD panel."

But it looks so tasty!

Perhaps the most overcautious entity of all, however, is America's railroad, Amtrak. The safety card you'll find on board includes such helpful suggestions as: "Never exit a moving train."

Aw, gee, never? Not even if I saw a guy do it in a movie once?

Below, you will find some real Amtrak safety tips mixed with some that are made up. Can you tell the difference?

Can your lawyer?

1) Watch your hands, fingers and knees when lowering or raising seat trays.

2) Beware of fingers, thumbs and shirttails when lowering the toilet seat.

3) Arrive at the station early to avoid rushing to your train.

4) When walking down the stairs, place one foot in front of the other.

5) Do not leave children unattended.

6) Do not leave children on the tracks.

7) Wear shoes at all times, and be careful while wearing delicate or non-rubber-soled shoes.

8) Keep trousers firmly clasped about the waist to facilitate walking.

9) Use seat backs and handrails for support while moving through the train.

10) Do not grasp passengers' hair for support.

11) Watch your step when boarding and leaving the train.

12) Do not exit train when it is stopped on a bridge.

13) In case of emergency, leave luggage.

14) If fire erupts, do not remain in line in snack car.

15) In an emergency ...

move away from the train. Look out for other trains.

16) If a moving train is proceeding directly toward you, relocate to another track. Do not dawdle.

KEY: All the odd numbers are official Amtrak advice. The rest may be someday soon.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now" and "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ( and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



3 Comments | Post Comment
Great!!!! As an Amtrak locomotive engineer, I'm constantly amazed at what absurd things people will do on or near the train. Its too bad that the actual warnings are actually necessary.
Comment: #1
Posted by: djallenson
Sat Feb 27, 2010 6:04 PM
Our law has been hijacked by lawyers. We need reform.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Matt
Thu Mar 4, 2010 9:06 AM
To be fair, the woman sued McDonalds because they intentionally kept their coffee so hot that it caused 3rd degree burns requiring skin grafts. What's worse is that McDonalds was fully aware of the problem (having had over 700 reported cases of serious burns) and not only did nothing but required its stores to serve coffee so hot that if you actually drank it immediately you would seriously burn yourself (180-190 degrees F). Coffee is normally served at 140 degrees F. It seems that the reason McDonalds wanted the coffee served so hot is that it made it taste better. But the key here is that McDonalds was serving coffee a full 20 degrees or more hotter than anyone else (see So McDonalds really did present a serious danger with its coffee, hurt hundreds of people and from all appearances deserved to be sued. So this wasn't just "Gosh, coffee is hot", it's "Holy Cow, these guys are serving coffee hotter than everyone else, so hot that if you do spill it you will need skin grafts."
Comment: #3
Posted by: Yaron
Mon Jun 21, 2010 1:08 PM
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