Long, long ago in a far-away, entirely fictional kingdom called California, there was a lord called ShortSightedLawmakers. This lord really liked to hear himself talk so he summoned his barrister – assuming she’d enjoy listening to him talk about stupid crap as well – and went for an inspection of his kingdom.
Lord ShortSightedLawmakers stopped in many storefronts as he passed through the villages.
“Lady Barrister,” he said, “I am very concerned by some of the compounds being used by the shopkeepers.”
“Such as what, My Lord?”
“Well, the tannery uses tannin.”
“Yes, I believe it is necessary to their work.”
“But I believe it causes cancer. People have a right to know when they are exposing themselves to such dangerous chemicals. I think they should be required to post such a warning.” (I know. This is sounding vaguely familiar.)
“Well, My Lord, I suppose I understand your concern, but how would it be enforced? Our law enforcement officials are overburdened as it is. I’m not sure we could expect them to police tanneries as well – simply to see if they are displaying proper signage.”
“Not just tanneries,” he bellowed. “Any vendor that utilizes frog’s legs! Or aspirin! Or lye!”
“My Lord, are you certain all of those cause cancer?”
“No!” But I’m not certain they don’t! And salt! I don’t think that’s good for you, either! And vinegar! Because I don’t like the smell. And there is something sinister about tea leaves!” And the Lord rambled on and on, naming chemicals he felt were vaguely threatening in some way.
The barrister sighed. “Again, My Lord, I do not see how we can put enforcement of such a law on the shoulders of our law enforcement officials.”
“Then we’ll let the people enforce it!” (Perfect. What could possibly go wrong?)
Lady Barrister’s mouth hung open a moment. “But, My Lord, doesn’t it seem that there are greedy, unscrupulous, self-serving, sleazy individuals that would exploit such a law to the detriment of poor business-owners who do not realize they are violating the law?”
“Nonsense. It will work.”
So the law was passed. And money-grubbing barristers all over the kingdom learned how to exploit the law, finding plaintiffs they could sue on behalf of and bringing lawsuits against business-owners who had no notion that they had done anything wrong. And they sued their pants off – despite the fact that the “plaintiffs” in those cases had never been harmed by any chemical found at the business. And those “plaintiffs” and barristers made mountains and mountains of gold and business-owners were afraid and so started posting signs in every store stating that they *might* use chemicals that *might* cause cancer, simply to avoid being prey to such a lawsuit.
And all of the people Lord ShortSightedLawmakers intended to protect with his warnings, found the signs, which were now freaking everywhere, utterly useless because (a) they were EVERYWHERE (like I said), and (b) they didn’t know what the chemicals were, how much they were exposed to, or whether they even were actually harmful! Add to this the fact that the lord’s list, which initially had a few chemicals on it when he started, ended up with HUNDREDS of chemicals on it.
So, there are two morals to this story. The first, life causes cancer. Seriously. (Okay, to better illustrate – when you roast coffee beans, a side effect of the roasting process creates acrylamide – all on its own! Not man-made. Just by roasting those little bad boys. And acrylamide is on the list. Consequently, every friggin coffee company YOU know has been sued. So, next time you go into Starbucks, enjoy your warning sign. I’m sure you all stopped drinking coffee as soon as you saw that oh-so-important sign informing you that your coffee may cause cancer (if you drink 37 cups a day, 7 days a week for the next 18 years).)
Oops. Forgot I was at the “Fairy Tale Law Firm.”
Okay, second moral to this story: please, for the love of all that is holy, read laws BEFORE you vote for them. You need to consider more than whether a law would be “a good idea.” Does it have an enforcement vehicle that actually works? Because bounty hunter clauses are making asshole plaintiffs and asshole attorneys into millionaires. And I doubt that was part of what you thought was “a good idea” when you marked your ballot.
Okay. I’m off my soap box. Sorry about that. And not to make this post overly educational, but here is a link to the California Attorney General’s record of Prop 65 lawsuits for 2013 – in case you thought I was exaggerating. 73% of all amounts recovered under these lawsuits went to the attorneys! I’d like to take a moment to thank those attorneys for furthering the stereotype that lawyers are basically bottom-feeding scumbags 🙂 Thanks, guys!
By the way. WARNING: This blog may contain chemicals known to the kingdom of California to cause cancer or other reproductive harm.