Bill would protect Missouri businesses from silly lawsuits

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

As the Missouri Legislature quickly approaches adjournment for another session, one critical piece of legislation dedicated to improving both the business climate and judicial climate continues to be held hostage. House Bill 2241, introduced by state Rep. Bryan Stevenson in the House Judicial Committee, would seek to curb frivolous lawsuits that threaten to run small businesses out of Missouri and cost taxpayers millions while knotting up the court system.

We like to say that retailing is the business of business. Manufacturing, transportation, marketing and wholesale all exist to support the final level of retail sales to customers nationwide. That's why retailing is so vital to all business and all customers throughout Missouri.

As president of the Missouri Retailers Association, I understand that a successful retail industry depends on integrity, solid customer service, and responsible business practices. That's why the Missouri Retailers Association has joined with more than 20 other businesses and associations from across Missouri to support HB 2241. We call ourselves the Missouri Justice Alliance, and you may have heard or seen our advertisements over the past week.

We feel strongly that more needs to be done to protect Missouri businesses from out of control lawsuits that lack merit but are heavy with greed. HB 2241 would seek to limit lawsuit awards to actual damages. What does that mean? It means that when wronged, consumers would be awarded sums equal to those lost. Why is this important? Chances are you heard about a family dry-cleaner in Washington, D.C., which lost a customer's pair of pants. The customer sued his dry-cleaner for $67 million dollars. For a pair of pants!

Ridiculous, you say? Won't happen in Missouri? Wrong. The ways our laws are currently written open the door to these types of frivolous lawsuits. That's why we have started the Missouri Justice Alliance: to bring about awareness of the threat that faces Missouri businesses and why something needs to be changed now, before a lawsuit that cripples a small business, costs the taxpayers dearly and ties up our courts makes headline news.

Even though the plaintiff, a sitting judge, in the dry-cleaner case was not awarded $67 million, or even $54 million as he later reduced his lawsuit (how gracious of him), the cost to the family dry-cleaner is devastating. it racked up $70,000 in legal bills. It was forced to close one of its two dry-cleaning stores. Retirement savings were drained. Add the sleepless nights and emotional stress and it's easy to see how one frivolous lawsuit cost a hard-working family nearly everything it worked for its whole life.

Let's not wait until a similar, tragic story happens right here to a neighbor, friend or family member. We, through the Missouri Legislature, have the ability to ensure no hard-working, law-abiding business owner in Missouri faces a similar fate. Join with the Missouri Retailers Association and the Missouri Justice Alliance to encourage legislators to support passage of HB 2241.

Contact Representative Stevenson to thank him for introducing this forward-looking legislation. You can visit to learn more about our group and find contact information to contact those on the House Judicial Committee and urge them to get this good legislation moving before it's too late.

David Overfelt is the president of the Missouri Retailers Association in Jefferson City, Mo.

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