By Michelle Smith
Starting, maintaining, and growing a small business is tough. Getting your ideas off the ground, finding the right staff, managing financials and handling day-to-day operations while you are also building a business, present challenges that on their own can prevent some entrepreneurs from starting their own company. In Florida, however, we have another, much more difficult problem to contend with: lawsuits. Lawyers across Florida have been misusing our courts to fill their pockets at the expense of local businesses for years, and it’s slowing down the entire state economy as a result.
Among the toughest types of lawsuits for local businesses to deal with are referred to as “premises liability” suits, meaning that business owners are liable for wrongdoings or injuries that happen in their place of business, often regardless of whether the incident was legitimate or even preventable in the first place. At their core, many premises liability cases fail to recognize that it is impossible to prevent every potential accident from happening. Isn’t that why we call accidents, accidents? And regardless of how many precautions a small-business owner takes, there will always be risks that remain out of their control. Holding them to such an impossible standard is not only unfair, it threatens their business, employees and wider community as well.
I recently had the opportunity to join NFIB Florida and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) at a press conference to draw attention to this very problem. At the press conference, CALA and NFIB rolled out new reports which demonstrate just how much allowing profit-seeking lawyers to abuse our courts costs all Floridians.
The reports break down how the excessive costs of lawsuits has hurt communities throughout the state, revealing some truly alarming and staggering statistics about the legal bills that taxpayers may not know they’re responsible for. The research finds that, on average, Florida loses 126,139 jobs every year because of lawsuits, coming with direct costs of $7.6 billion. That money comes right out of the pockets of hard-working people across the state, and it’s not something we should tolerate anymore.
Why does it cost so much? Simply put, many businesses, especially news businesses, cannot afford to absorb the costs associated with runaway litigation. They do not have the financial wherewithal to employ an expensive legal team or maintain a contract with a capable law firm.
I know first-hand how much of a strain such lawsuits put on local businesses. My medical scheduling firm was the target of such litigation at one point. It took time away from our work with clients – which is central to any business – and became a distraction with our time and resources in the process. Like so many other business owners across the state have experienced, there was a potential for limiting our ability to grow for the duration of these efforts. We were fortunate we had the resources that other companies may not, and, as a result, prevailed. But other companies may not be so lucky.
Florida should not force local businesses to constantly operate under the fear that they could be hit with a new lawsuit at any given moment. It severely hinders their ability to operate and to grow, and in the process limits the potential of local economies and discourages future entrepreneurs from setting up shop in Florida. Without change, Floridians will continue to pay the price.
That is why we must encourage our legislators to pursue reform. By imposing smart and forward-thinking limits on when premises liability can be invoked, we can simultaneously make Florida a more welcoming home for businesses and discourage questionable activity on the part of trial lawyers in the state. Fixing our problems with premises liability could be the first crucial step on a long journey toward helping our state recover from the long-term effects of lawsuit abuse, and that is something that would benefit every Floridian.
Michelle Smith is an NFIB member and the owner and operator of Source1 Specialty Services, Inc., a medical staffing agency.