As you read this article, your yard is likely receiving building materials that you soon will sell and deliver to your customers. That's a pretty typical day for an industry retailer, one in which your thoughts and concerns are focused on meeting delivery dates and growing your business. What you may not realize, however, is that one or more of the products you are selling and delivering to jobsites may in the future be considered “unreasonably dangerous” by your builder or your builder's customer. It's at this point that your company may be named in a product liability lawsuit and you are introduced to the world of a plaintiff's attorney.
The above scenario is not as far-fetched as you might think. Litigation costs have increased hundredfold from 1950 to 2001, to $205 billion. In addition to higher insurance rates and out-of-pocket costs for legal representation, judgments, and settlements, product liability claims also divert funds from capital projects, worker training and hiring—and from company growth.
In addition to its countless other uses, the Internet has become an easy way for consumers to learn whom to sue in a product liability lawsuit. In a recent search of the Web, we easily found the following on one law firm's site: “In instituting a products liability action, the plaintiff should charge not only the manufacturer but all other entities responsible for placing the unreasonably dangerous article in the market. Other responsible parties will include distributors, retailers, repairers, assemblers, component suppliers, and testing laboratories. All such entities may have played a significant role in placing the defective product in the market and such entities have profited from their actions and thus should bear responsibility for damage resulting from their unreasonableness.”
The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) has a plan to protect our building material retailers from plaintiff attorneys and abusive lawsuits. Soon the association will introduce to Congress legislation seeking product liability protection for legal products that dealers did not design, manufacture, or alter prior to sale. NLBMDA's Retailer Liability Relief (RLR) legislation is a proactive and aggressive step to provide liability protection for products you simply sell.
Now your help is needed! NLBMDA has made this our No. 1 priority in Congress. But passing congressional legislation requires an army of volunteers working with our Washington lobbyists to gain the support of your representatives. It takes resources, time, commitment, phone calls, and visits with your elected officials to win a victory on Capitol Hill.
Join our effort by attending NLBMDA's Legislative Conference, April 3–5, when more than 200 industry executives and their family members will meet with their representatives to ask them to co-sponsor the RLR legislation. The strength of this campaign will come from how many legislators we can have sign on as supporters.
If you'd like to join our effort, call NLBMDA at 800.634.8645. Working together we can achieve this critical victory. —Shawn Conrad is president of NLBMDA.