Cross-posted at WLF’s contributor site

First, they argued that Californians must be warned of the possible carcinogenic effects of driving in parking garages.  Then it was lighting matches, eating potato chips, and plugging in Christmas lights.  According to plaintiffs’ lawyers, our most innocuous habits must be warned against.  Now, drinking coffee is a purportedly dangerous practice–or so alleges The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT).

CERT has brought a lawsuit against coffee roasting companies under California’s Proposition 65.  Prop 65, as many Californians are aware, requires warning labels to be placed on products that contain materials the state alleges are associated with cancer, and the act’s private attorney general provisions allow consumers–even those who cannot show they’ve been harmed–to bring lawsuits to enforce the act.  The act also provides for attorneys’ fees.

You can guess what Prop 65 hath wrought: litigation has erupted, and strike suits under the act have become a cottage industry.  Even the iPhone (not my iPhone!) has been targeted by environmental groups.

According to the California Office of the Attorney General, 74% of Prop 65 settlement awards in 2011 went to attorneys’ fees and costs.  Producers have responded accordingly, and companies now slap Prop 65 warnings on just about every product in an effort to not be sued.  This fact severely undermines the usefulness of the warnings.