Accredited Snow Contractors Association members once again descended upon Washington, D.C., Sept. 11 and 12 to tell our story in support of Senate Bill 237, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act. In short, this bill aims to reign in frivolous lawsuits. As you’re well aware, a reduction in frivolous lawsuits would significantly impact the number of baseless slip-and-fall claims filed against snow contractors, therefore reducing insurance costs.
The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act would change Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, making it mandatory for federal judges to impose sanctions on plaintiffs and their attorneys who are found to have filed frivolous lawsuits. This changes the rules back to where they were prior to 1993. Those of you in the industry 25 years ago recall there were very few, if any, slip-and-fall claims. The 1993 change opened the flood gates for attorneys to file claims against anyone and everyone they could – including snow and ice management professionals. The way the system generally works, once the federal courts adopt new changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure, the state courts quickly follow to adopt those rules.
This bill was known as House Bill 720 in the House of Representatives, and passed the House earlier this year. Therefore, our goal this year in D.C. is to educate our senators on the need for this bill to pass and the huge positive impact it will have on small businesses.
I can’t stress how productive a day in D.C. can be for an industry. Any one meeting can pay back huge dividends. For example, the first time the ASCA converged on D.C., we spent the day meeting with 30 congressional representatives and senators. We had 30-plus meetings, with three teams meeting with different elected officials every half hour. At day’s end, many of us were sitting around a hotel lobby discussing the impact we thought we had, if any.
Midway through the conversation, Linda Clogg’s (Clogg Landscape Associates in Wixom, Michigan) phone buzzed alerting her a new email had been received. The smile that came across Linda’s face as she read the message gave us our answer. The email from her congressman’s office, to whom we had spoken only a couple of hours earlier, assured us the congressman would cosponsor the bill. All because we did the simplest thing in the world. We told him about it.
Is it our government’s fault they don’t know people are suing businesses for slipping and falling on snow and ice? Or is it our fault for not educating them sooner?
Thirty seconds into the conversation with a federal representative, they stopped me and said “Wait a minute, you mean to tell me people are suing other people in the U.S. for slipping and falling on snow and ice? They didn’t know! How are they supposed to do something about it if we haven’t told them there is a problem?”
How are they supposed to do something about it if we haven’t told them there is a problem?
Mike Jones of True North Outdoor in Kansas City joined the first trip to D.C. Six months later, Mike admitted to me the only reason he went was because I begged him to go, and because there were a lot of touristy things he wanted to do. He told me he never thought we would actually accomplish anything until we walked in the Rayburn Building congressional offices and started meetings with our elected officials. Today, Mike chairs the ASCA’s Government Affairs Committee.
It is our responsibility as productive members of the professional snow and ice management industry to educate our elected officials on the business issues we face and the impact these types of legislative changes would have on our community.