As part of our National Policy Agenda for the 111th Congress, NLBMDA continues to advocate for lawsuit reforms to relieve the burden that frivolous claims pose on lumber and building material dealers.
Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), our lead congressional sponsor, moved swiftly early this year to reintroduce the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act. This NLBMDA-initiated legislation would protect dealers from abusive lawsuits regarding products sold in their yards. Under Innocent Sellers, dealers that simply sell a legal product without altering it and that do not act negligently in handling the product would be protected from liability should the product fail or otherwise cause damage in the future.
You may be surprised to learn that under product liability laws, a dealer can be held liable for damages without any wrongdoing on its part; today's laws hold each party in the supply chain equally liable regardless of fault. If a product fails because of a manufacturing defect or improper installation, the dealer could be left holding the bill. At the very least, a dealer could be tied up in legal proceedings, even if eventually dismissed from the case.
And while you may not have been sued yet, trial lawyers are aggressively targeting the building supply industry. Many in the industry experienced litigation over asbestos products sold long before they were known to be hazardous.
Now, lawsuits over lead paint are springing up in several major cities and target retailers along with manufacturers. One in four building material dealers reports being named in lawsuits over products it sold.
Even if you have not experienced a lawsuit, odds are your liability insurance rates continue to increase as a result of the pervasive lawsuits that target the industry. At a time when the industry faces significant challenges because of the economic downturn, frivolous lawsuits could put companies out of business.
Innocent Sellers is bipartisan, common-sense reform legislation introduced in 2007 by Reps. Boren and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). It gained more than 60 co-sponsors before the end of the year, thanks largely to the grassroots contacts that building material dealers made. Unfortunately, the effort suffered a significant setback when Chabot and a dozen additional supporters retired or lost their re-election campaigns in 2008.
Thus, there is renewed urgency for the building supply industry to seek their lawmakers' support for this important legislation. Numbers matter, and a strong showing of support through co-sponsorships is critical to ensure that Innocent Sellers receives a committee hearing and advances through the legislative process. We know that it's an uphill battle in the face of significant lobbying resources of the trial lawyers, but with the grassroots support of the industry we will move the ball forward in 2009.
Also endorsing Innocent Sellers are the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, National Federation of Independent Business Legal Trust, and the American Tort Reform Association, as well as other industry-related groups.
Visit www.dealer.org to contact your representative and senators and request their support. If your legislator was a co-sponsor in 2008 ("In Appreciation" section), be sure to give your thanks for his or her continued support. You can reach their offices by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121. Congressional offices receive a lot of mail, and it never hurts to follow up with a brief personal call. If your representative agrees to co-sponsor, be sure to send a thank-you note to express your appreciation.
If you have already contacted your legislators, please consider supporting NLBMDA's Legislative Advocacy Fund to ensure that we continue to have the resources needed to promote Innocent Sellers. If you have questions or would like more information on Innocent Sellers, please visit www.dealer.org or contact NLBMDA at 800.634.8645.