California’s Prop 65 Continues to Cause Legal Problems

Everyone has come into contact with California’s Proposition 65. Its ominous warnings now greet guests at Disneyland, drivers at California parking garages, visitors at hotels, shoppers at car dealerships and lunchgoers in fast-food lines. California is pretty serious about chemicals and has been since 1986 when the ballot initiative was first approved.  

More than three decades later, manufacturers from across the country find themselves at odds with a lawsuit mill that has grown around Proposition 65, which gave citizens the right to prosecute companies through the same county courts that handle divorces and fender-benders.

“I think the original intent was very positive,” said Jim Plesent (owner of a natural soap company in Vermont)  “But political forces became involved to make Proposition 65 overwhelming, overreaching, overdone and overblown.”

In Plesent’s case, he feared he could be sued over natural replacements. One of them, a compound found in carrots, hops, lemongrass and cannabis, had been linked to cancerous renal tumors in male rats that were force-fed large quantities of it, five days a week, for up to two years. That earned it a place on the Proposition 65 list in 2015, over objections from the makers of sustainable products and carrot growers.

Plesent made a strictly business decision: “We do not wish to fight against California.” He added a warning.

Plesent is not alone. Companies in every sector of the consumer economy now routinely attach warnings for any of the more than 900 chemicals and elements covered by Proposition 65, without testing for them or attempting to reformulate products. They fear citizen-enforcer lawsuits more than they fear freaking out customers.

That profusion of warnings has subverted Proposition 65 and left Californians, and increasingly anyone who shops online, over-warned, under-informed and potentially unprotected, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found. And it has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to a handful of attorneys and their repeat clients.

Where Proposition 65 prosecutions once targeted notoriously hazardous toxins such as mercury found in hemorrhoid suppositories and lead in spiced Mexican candies, they now claim that cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm might arise from dalliances with bondage tape or from opening a Bible; from grasping a pair of pliers with bare hands, or donning polyurethane-coated safety gloves. From chewing on the plastic frames of glasses, leaving them on your nose, or touching the zipper pull of their carrying case. From smoking pot, and burning the rolling papers used to twist it up. From casting a plastic lure on a lake.

Prop 65 is a great reminder that disputes are EVERYWHERE. When those nasty things like landlord/tenant matters, contract issues, nuisance ADA claims and even collections threaten YOUR business, call in the good-guy business litigator, Dean Sperling who will resolve YOUR matter with YOUR best interests in mind! 

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