“You used to be able to give better service; you used to be able to be better than everybody else. Now you have to watch your step because you’re doing something that’s going to expose you to some legal action.”
That sentiment underscores Randy Baumgarten’s frustration with America’s lawsuit culture.
Randy and his brother Rick are the second-generation small business owners of Lee Lumber and Building Materials in Chicago, which was started by their father in 1952. Unfortunately, Randy and his brother are no longer just in the lumber business. Like most small business owners, they now have to be experts at avoiding senseless lawsuits.
In recent years, Randy’s business has faced a growing number of frivolous lawsuits, everything from customers who were injured misusing equipment they had purchased, to customers claiming to have been injured on their premises, to damages from deliveries.
Regardless of whether or not the lawsuits are frivolous, they still cost time and money to defend against and ultimately make insurance costs skyrocket.
As a result of the costs and the fear of lawsuits, Randy has been forced to change how he does business.
“Everybody seems to be looking for some way to get something for nothing and it just comes in the bottom line,” he said. “It’s very frustrating because it’s tough enough to make a profit.”
“When I was a kid, we used to private label thingsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Now, you have to watch it. You don’t want your name on it because that just creates more exposure for you. It’s something else that someone says, ‘Gosh, that came from Lee Lumber, we can go after Lee Lumber.'”
Randy would eventually like to pass on the company to his son, who is now in the business as well. “We’d like to keep it healthy so he can keep going in the business and keep the name going and keep that family service and family attitude.”
“There’s got to be a line drawn in the sand and we’ve got to start doing something about this, because it’s just gone way too far.”