Reprinted from our sister publication, SNOW Magazine. The following article was written by Kevin Gilbride, ASCA executive director.
July 23, is a moment we will remember as the turning point for the professional snow and ice management industry.
While we realize the road ahead of us is long, earlier this week 29 of your peers and I embarked on a historic push to influence legislative change that benefits our industry.
As a unified front, we gathered in Washington, D.C. to lobby your elected representatives to change laws to curb frivolous slip-and-fall lawsuits.
Our detractors will ask what we hoped to really accomplish through our inaugural Day on the Hill.
At the federal level, we were prepared to come in and ask our representatives to reintroduce the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which never left the subcommittee during the last session of Congress. Much to our excitement, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) did in fact reintroduce this proposed bill H.R. 2655: the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013 on July 13.
If passed, H.R. 2655 would allow judges to impose sanctions on people who are found to have filed frivolous lawsuits. Those sanctions would include paying defense attorney fees. It’s our belief that this would deter disingenuous folks from filing frivolous claims.
Consider the facts: 35 percent of slip-and-fall claims against snow contractors are dismissed outright. Of the 65 percent that remain, 72 percent of them are settled for less than $20,000. These are obviously nuisance suits intending for a quick payout. This is the type of information we communicated to the legislative community.
While the bill is much bigger than the professional snow and ice management industry, when I’ve discussed our industry’s plight with those in Washington, even they are astounded at these lawsuits.
Once we learned Rep. Smith had reintroduced this potential law we updated our talking points. We asked our representatives to get this bill out of subcommittee and onto the House floor to be passed.
Our first meeting was with the subcommittee in which this law resides. The meeting was a tremendous success. They understand your plight. They agree with us. Unfortunately, they also told us we are the poster child for this law’s need. Not necessarily the position we want to be in. As we were walking to our next meeting, someone in the group commented, “If they all go as well as that meeting, we are going to have a pretty good day.”
The group then split up and began meeting with their congressional representatives and senate offices. We split into states, and each state went to their meetings. When one state didn’t have a meeting in a time slot, they jumped into another state’s meeting to support each other.
In every meeting we drove home the facts that we came with. We told stories of how these lawsuits are impacting your businesses. To put real faces with these stories was extremely powerful for our representatives to see. Not every meeting went as well as the first one, but some were pretty darn close.
As we departed the Hill, a group of us were in a cab. We all felt pretty good … and pretty tired. We felt like we had done what we needed to do that day to create awareness. Upon our return to the hotel, folks began heading home. A group of us were sitting in the lobby having a drink and feeling pretty good about our day when Linda Clogg received an e-mail. A huge smile came over her face as she had Troy and me read the message:
I just wanted to thank you for stopping by the office today. I showed Congressman Bentivolio the bill and he immediately cosponsored it. I’ll be letting Congressman Lamar’s office know and it will take a day or two to become official, but I thought you’d like to know.
Carl Paulus, Ph.D
Senior Legislative Assistant
Congressman Kerry Bentivolio
Our feeling of success and satisfaction was confirmed. We did make an impact.
We know there are many others considering co-sponsoring this bill, and we are following up with them. There is still a long road ahead of us.
So what can you do to help?
First, write your elected officials. You can easily Google them to find their addresses. Send them a letter or an email and encourage them to support H.R. 2655, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013. Tell how these ridiculous lawsuits are impacting your business and your insurance rates.
Second, August recess for Congress is upon us. You should have set a meeting with your representative at their home office. If you missed out this year, make time for it next year. Go in and sit down with them and tell them how these frivolous claims are impacting your business. We had 29 people on the Hill and only three of them had ever been there before. They did an awesome job of delivering the message. You can too! Feel free to call me and I will walk you through how to approach a meeting like this. Third, join ASCA. We are leading the charge for positive change. Your membership fees directly support these efforts.
I would like to thank all of the ASCA members who made the trip to meet with our representatives. I would especially like to thank the following group who set the 30-plus appointments with the offices of your congress people and senators.
This group who drove the success of this trip include: Pete Schultz, Pleasantview Landscapes; Kyle Rose, Rose Property Maintenance; Mike Jones, True North Outdoor; Troy Clogg and Julie Karnes, Troy Clogg Landscape Associates; Dick Churchill and Beth Tramontozzi, The GroundsKeeper; Teri Merideth, About Time Snow; Sandy Munley, Ohio Landscapers Association; and Jody Shilan and Gail Wolcott, New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association.
I’d like to thank the team at PLANET for allowing us to partner with them, providing us the infrastructure to have a successful event.
Finally, I’d like to thank Meyer Products for their sponsorship of the ASCA portion of the event. Without their financial support, this would not have been possible. Without the drive of these folks we never would have been able to have our Day on the Hill.