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When the Accredited Snow Contractors Association members descended on Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, our mission was to educate elected officials on the business issues snow and ice management companies face. Specifically, the number of slip-and-fall claims this industry faces each season. I wrote about some of this last month, but wanted to expand on our time there.

The legal system allows anyone to file a claim against another person or entity for any reason (or no reason at all) and then the court system is left to let the claim run its course. Rarely does the court system get a chance to see the cases. In most cases, the attorneys for the insurance carrier broker a settlement that makes these claims go away. This settlement then raises insurance premiums and encourages others to file similar claims for a quick payday.

Senate Bill 237, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, would rein in these lawsuits. This bill would make it mandatory for judges at the federal level (and subsequently the state level) to impose sanctions on plaintiffs and attorneys who are found to have filed frivolous lawsuits. Those sanctions would include the plaintiff and their attorneys being responsible for defense fees if it is deemed a frivolous case. It also would remove the 21-day “safe harbor” clause. This clause allows a plaintiff’s attorney to file a lawsuit against anyone and then pull it back in 21 days. It discourages them from doing any research on the case and encourages quick settlements.

We only met with Senate offices because this bill, which has partisan support, has already passed the House of Representatives. It only needs to pass the Senate and then be signed by the president. The Bill (HB 720) passed in the House 230-188.

In the end, your peers took 48 hours out of their busy schedules to educate our elected officials on issues facing your businesses.

In our first conversation, Paul Taylor, the chair of the subcommittee on the constitution, didn’t even realize there was this kind of problem in this industry. He couldn’t believe there were people suing companies for slipping and falling on ice.

He didn’t know. Your government doesn’t know because we didn’t tell them. That was our fault. Thank the nearly 40 individuals who took care of that for you.

Our success on Capitol Hill, like always, garnered mixed results. The Republican side was very sympathetic to our situation, while staunch Democrats have their heels dug in. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is no friend to small business or the snow industry. New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker’s office, while perhaps a little more cordial, also is not a friend of the snow industry.

In september, ASCA educated elected officials on the business issues snow and ice management companies face.

Some more moderate Democrats were very open to learning more about the issues we are facing, asking for additional information. We are in the process of gathering that information. We’re also looking for more stories of frivolous lawsuits, and they do not have to be snow-related.

If you have a story to tell, please call me at 216-393-0246 or email me at kgilbride@gie.net.

The author is the executive director of the ASCA.