“There’s no way for us to protect ourself,” says Jerry Lightfoot. “Someone falls off a piece of lumber and they hurt theirself and they sue us, what do we do? There’s no protection.”
Jerry is the Vice President of Orange County Building Materials in Vidor, Texas, which was started by his father in 1975. He has managed the company since his father’s retirement about twenty years ago.
Orange County Building Materials got slapped with a lawsuit when a board they had sold was used improperly as a ceiling joist and broke under the weight of two men. One of the men caught another ceiling joist, but the other fell and was injured. The injured man sued the builder, the man who almost fell with him, and Orange County Building Materials, claiming the board they had sold was “defective.”
“He was driven by an attorney,” Jerry says. “He sought counsel — pretty common for individuals to go out and get legal counsel and when they do, the attorneys say, ‘Here’s how we’ll go about it… We’ll sue the guy you’re working for, we’ll sue the guy he’s working for, sue the guy who supplied the materials…'”
“We independents, small business people get sued — it’s a little easier for those guys to settle with us, make us react.”
“These lawyers are not ambulance chasers, but they are certainly creating havoc in society today,” Jerry says. “That’s how they’re making their living unfortunately.”
“They’re looking for big cases, looking for easy money. That’s one type of lawyer we have out there today.”
Jerry’s case was eventually settled, costing his company not only in terms of legal costs and the cost of the settlement, but also the loss of time and money spent on the lawsuit. The experience has made him very aware of the impact lawsuit abuse has on small companies.
“Frivolous lawsuits could impact somebody’s business dramatically,” he says. “We’ve been in business thirty years, so we’re pretty seasoned, but if you had a frivolous lawsuit hit a company that’s a start-up company, it could put them out of business.”
“If we had too many of these cases, it would impact us also in a way that might put us out of business. It’s not easy just writing the check, but we’re able to do it. But it’s a cost of doing business that — why should it be there?”