On September 12th, a group of ASCA members descended on Washington DC carrying your message. 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.

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. As you know, rarely does the court system even get a chance to see the cases. As a matter of fact, only 15 percent of claims even make it into the court system. Most of the time 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 plaintiff’s and their attorneys, who are found to have filed frivolous lawsuits. Those sanctions would include the plaintiff and their attorney’s 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 the House 230-188.

In the end, your peers took 48 hours out of their busy schedules to do perhaps the most important thing for this industry -- educate our elected officials on issues facing your businesses. Four years ago, I begged and pleaded to get 19 snow and ice management professionals to D.C. with me. This year, we were upwards of 40 attendees. On our first trip and in our first conversation, Paul Taylor, the chair of the subcommittee on the constitution, stopped me at the beginning of my presentation, and stated: “Wait a minute, you mean to tell me that people are suing people in the United States for slipping and falling on snow and ice?” He didn’t know. Your government doesn’t know. Why? Because we didn’t tell them. They can’t do anything about a problem until they know it is a problem. That is our fault…or 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. We had mostly successful meetings. The Republican side was very sympathetic to our situation. Staunch Democrats have their heels dug in (likely due to the money the plaintiff’s bar uses to support them). Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is no friend to small business or the snow industry. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker’s office, while perhaps a little more cordial, also is not a friend of the snow industry.

Some more moderate democrats were very open to learning more about the issues we are facing, asking for additional information and follow-up from us. 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 (or stories) call or email me directly at kgilbride@gie.net or me at 216-393-0246.