Jerry E. Pierce
Small businesses have been a driving force in our economy since our great nation’s founding in 1776. They are innovators and entrepreneurs, launched by dedicated and hard-working Americans taking their passion and turning it into valuable societal contributions that people across America rely on every day. But any threat against them could have dangerous reverberations both for businessowners and their employees.
Entrepreneurs have spent years contributing to the growth, vitality, and development of our economic and socioeconomic environment. They embody the American spirit and exist as a constant reminder that the American Dream can, in fact, be made into a reality with hard work and determination. However, these vital contributors to our society increasingly find themselves under attack by frivolous lawsuits.
Powerful, well-funded trial lawyer interest groups have targeted their minor claims and frivolous litigation directly at the vulnerable small businesses that line Main Streets in towns across the country. They do this partly by blustering up unfair workers’ compensation suits, which have left small businesses and their employees out in the cold when they simply do not have the financial strength to pay them off. This is a dangerous cycle that has been accelerating at an alarming rate across the nation.
The workers’ compensation system is important to the business community and their workers. It’s a compact between employers and employees overseen by the legislature that guarantees benefits to injured workers without having to go to court. It is in place to protect both employers and their employees, and when used correctly, works to the advantage of both, as well.
But the system is being taken advantage of by money-hungry plaintiffs’ attorneys eager to benefit from loopholes in the system and pad their pockets. Small business owners are paying into the system under the guise of protecting themselves and making injured employees whole, only to see their money being sucked up lawyers by instead of workers.
One of the most important steps we can take to bring an end to frivolous workers’ compensation suits is to stop providing incentives for trial attorneys to take advantage of our state’s workers in the first place. Currently, the system of “contingency fees” entitles lawyers to a certain amount of any winnings, and often leave plaintiffs who actually need compensation with nothing. If we were to place hard caps on what lawyers can take from these cases, we would be able to both help claimants who genuinely need compensation and stop lawyers from seeking unnecessarily large damages that can cripple small businesses.
Workers’ compensation is, of course, important. If there is an accident, small business owners like myself are committed to making our employees whole. However, we need to be sure to keep the trial bar at bay because as the system is currently devised, unlimited attorneys’ fees are robbing small business owners and their employees. Opening the conversation to well thought-out and comprehensive reform will only allow us to construct a better system for employers, for employees, and for all taxpayers of our great state.
Jerry E. Pierce is the chairman of Restaurant Equipment World in Orlando and former chairman of NFIB Leadership Florida.