Republican House members have introduced a bill to protect dealers from what they call “unfair product liability lawsuits.”

The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) is backing Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) for reintroducing a bill the association previously promoted called the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (H.R. 1199). The bill protects from liability those businesses that merely sell products, and did not manufacture or install them.

According to the NLBMDA, “unfounded and unfair” lawsuits are increasingly having a negative effect on the ability of building material dealers and distributors to run their business as planned. According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, small businesses bear 81 percent of business tort liability costs.

“NLBMDA thanks Representative Farenthold for his work to restore some sanity to our legal system by recognizing that business owners that merely sell products, and are not involved in the manufacturing process, should not be held liable for defects that they did not create,” says Chairman JD Saunders.

Current law imposes liability without wrongdoing on sellers and exposes them to all of the damages allegedly suffered by a plaintiff, even though others may have played the critical role in causing the damages. The rule even applies in the case of faulty manufacturing or design of the product or the customer’s improper use of it, yet the seller can still face penalties, according to the NLBMDA.

“I constantly hear stories from NLBMDA members about unfounded product liability lawsuits that have significantly impacted their businesses. These lawsuits cost lumber dealers thousands of dollars annually and often force dealers to settle to avoid expensive legal fees, even though they are innocent of any wrong-doing,” says president and CEO Jonathan Paine. “The Innocent Sellers Fairness Act would limit the instances when retailers—including lumber dealers—could be pulled into a product liability lawsuit and protect dealers from plaintiffs’ lawyers looking for a quick dollar. NLBMDA is leading the fight to garner support for the legislation and we applaud Rep. Farenthold for continuing to be a partner in this fight for our small businesses.”

Farenthold was joined by five representatives as original cosponsors to introduce the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act, H.R. 1199. The original co-sponsors are Reps. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), John “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee.

Interested lumber dealers will have the opportunity to push for the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act later this month at the NLBMDA Spring Meeting and Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C, which runs March 23-25. More information about this meeting and the scheduled Capitol Hill visits with congress can be found at www.leg-con.org.

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