When opening a business, there are always a lot of costs involved. Finding a place to set up shop, hiring employees, stocking products, and so much more are all a normal part of starting a company. Too often, however, there are outside factors that add unnecessary expenses and create roadblocks for a storeowner’s day-to-day operations, and sometimes those costs are so significant that they limit a company’s ability to do business at all.
Some of the primary sources of these unnecessary costs are the excessive lawsuits people file against businesses that you occasionally see stories about in your local newspaper. Working face-to-face with retailers across Missouri, I frequently hear first-hand accounts from all over the state about how these lawsuits make life harder for businessowners and employees alike as they simply do their best to serve their customers.
That’s because as these lawsuits pile up, so do legal bills, and that can create significant problems for businesses. Sometimes, even cases from years ago pop up seemingly out of nowhere seeking huge amounts in damages.
This problem is perpetuated by a number of plaintiffs’ attorneys in Missouri who misuse liability laws to file dozens of claims. Since fighting those claims in court is too expensive for many companies, they are often coerced into settling for big amounts, meaning the lawyers collect thousands (and sometimes even millions) in legal fees.
Take, for example, product liability lawsuits. If a consumer buys their favorite brand of oil from O’Reilly Auto Parts or a local auto shop and something goes wrong – even if they ignore directions and misuse the product – it is common for lawyers to sue the retailer for liability just because they are the ones who stocked the product.
Sadly, loose product liability laws are just one of many ways that attorneys justify filing more lawsuits. Premises liability regulations also create problems for retailers and businessowners across the state. Creating a safe environment for employees and customers is a top priority for businessowners, and they go to endless lengths to clear hazards from their place of business.
What many people don’t realize, however, it that many trial lawyers bend premises liability rules to apply to trespassers as well. This means that even if someone comes on to a store’s property illegally and causes an accident, they can still file a lawsuit saying the storeowner is liable for covering any damages or expenses as a result of that accident.
By letting these kinds of lawsuits fill up our courtrooms, we create unfair and unrealistic barriers to doing business. These lawsuits make it harder for retailers and businesses to serve their customers, and it can even deter other businesses from opening in Missouri at all. Instead of telling businesses that we want them to open in our communities, frivolous product and premises liability cases tell them to steer clear.
That’s why we need to send a message to the lawmakers in Jefferson City that it is time for change. They already showed in the last legislative session that they are willing to foster a friendly business climate by passing laws to keep out-of-state plaintiffs from filing frivolous lawsuits against Missouri businesses, and now we need to tell them it’s time to do more.
We need make it clear that now it’s time to fix product liability to ensure that only cases with merit are allowed to move forward, and ones that hold retail stores to unrealistic standards are thrown out. Similarly, we need to get rid of the ridiculous premises liability loopholes that let lawyers get away with filing cases that should never see the light of day. That way, local businesses can serve their communities without the threat of a costly lawsuit always hanging over their heads.
David Overfelt is the President of the Missouri Retailers Association.