By the end of 2009, unemployment in Michigan reached 15 percent. While neighboring businesses in Bay City lay off employees or close their doors, Richard Singer and his father are working hard to keep their small business afloat.
“Any time an entrepreneur decides to go into business for himself, he’s incurring a lot of risk, and the rewards are not guaranteed by any means,” Singer says. “When you throw in the additional risk of lawsuits and their potential cost, it has a serious effect on the economic engine of this country.”
In 2006, one the company’s neighbors – who had filed 23 previous lawsuits in the county – sued Acra Cast, the Singer family business. Acra Cast, with about 15 employees, is a small foundry, which designs and creates precision metal castings ranging from sculptures to machine parts.
The plaintiff alleged that emissions from the foundry had contaminated his cars, his carpet, and the siding of his house. Singer’s business has always been in full compliance with all environmental regulations. As the case proceeded, Singer learned that the plaintiff did not even own some of the cars for which he wanted compensation, and he had disposed of the carpets and cleaned the house siding before any evidence could be collected. From the samples they could collect, Singer explains that he and his lawyers eventually discovered that the gritty material on the plaintiff’s car could not have been caused by the wax burned at Acra Cast. It contained metal shavings and paint globules, Singer says, and was likely the result of parking near an auto body shop.
Even so, the case dragged on for almost three years, and Acra Cast had to pay for the suit out of pocket. Knowing he had not caused this damage, Singer refused to settle out of court, and he was forced to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees before the case was eventually dismissed in 2009.
These expenses, says Singer, burdened his business at a time of extreme hardship. The economy in Michigan and the fact that several of his clients have recently gone out of business meant that profit margins were dangerously narrow. He even had to lay off several of his employees.
“It’s one thing to run a business and to put up with the pain and the hard work associated with that,” Singer says. “It’s an entirely different subject to have someone come in, walk in off the street and – short of putting a gun to your head – try to steal money from you.”