Recently, the California Attorney General’s Office posted the summary of all settlements of Proposition 65 cases for 2010. Under Prop 65, any person suing "in the public interest" must notify the Attorney General of the lawsuit and the outcome of the case. This summary of private settlements lists all cases brought by private plaintiffs over the past year. The data shows the total penalties, attorney fees and all other funds collected.
Well, it seems that a few eager attorneys have found quite a revenue stream in filing lawsuits against businesses that might have violated some portion of Proposition 65. Most are related to warning signs if the business is using a particular chemical listed in Proposition 65.
The 2010 private settlements once again show an interesting trend. There were 187 settlements in 2010 totaling roughly $13.6 million dollars. Of that money, approximately $7.8 million went to attorneys’ fees. This is roughly 57% going to the lawyers. The remaining amounts either went to civil penalties or other distributions. Most of the time only a small portion went to support an environmental cause. This distribution of fees is surely not what Californians intended when they passed the initiative in 1986.
When you look more closely, the "shakedowns" become even more obscene. It seems that two individuals have really got this suing thing down to a science, no pun intended. Russell Brimer and Anthony Held account for 83 of the settlements posted in 2010. Those combined settlements accounted for roughly $3,738,000. And of that amount the two had $2,895,000 in attorney fees, or nearly 77% of the total.
Seriously, even if you believe Proposition 65 is the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread, you would be hard-pressed to agree that 77% in legal fees is anywhere near acceptable. And what is more disturbing is that this has been going on since 2000. These guys must be driving Bentleys and sipping martinis.
My quesiton is, when is somebody going to do something about it and stop the abuse? Okay, say I am a business owner, and I did not post my Proposition 65 warning sign. Instead of warning me, lawsuits are filed and the settlement checks are cut. It would seem that Proposition 65 should be amended to allow for a corrective time period before any lawsuit can be filed This would stop Brimer and Held from taking advantage of another poorly written law, while still warning Californians when dangerous chemicals are present. That or put a cap on the amount people or entities can take in legal fees.
Is that unreasonable? I do not think so. California had more than 1 million lawsuits filed last year and the Legislature has repeatedly taken the road of more lawsuits over a fairer legal climate. Someone needs to close the door to this abuse.
Cross-posted at www.cala.com.