Zepeda: Lawsuits can take the glow off the holidays

Via the Longview News-Journal

As the holiday song popularized by Andy Williams claims, it should be the most wonderful time of the year. Yet, it can turn into the most litigious season with party hosts and guests concerned about liability, unregulated lawsuit lenders making a holiday push for clients, and businesses working to ensure their 2014 doesn’t start mired in questionable litigation.

It’s telling that, even in a state that has done so much to ensure our courts are used for justice, not greed, folks still fear the fact that one lawsuit can drain their bank account or shutter their business. We know that even with reforms, no one is fully immune to lawsuit abuse, but we can and should work to raise awareness of its costs to everyone, curb lawsuits that are more about greed than justice, and help prevent unnecessary suits from ever finding their way to court.

Party hosts this holiday season — from Christmas to New Years to the Super Bowl, and everything in between — should take steps to ensure a safe and liability free celebration.

If you’re inviting guests to your home for festivities that include alcohol, take the extra step to plan or provide alternative forms of transportation for your guests, including designated drivers or cabs for safe rides home. Steer clear of self-service bars, opting instead for a party with a bartender well versed in identifying underage and intoxicated drinkers.

Halting the flow of alcohol well in advance of the end of the party is also another common sense tip aimed at party hosts wanting to avoid a lawsuit. Arm yourself with a few simple social host liability tips, and it’s certain to be a far more stress-free, and, hopefully, lawsuit-free holiday.

And, if you’re involved in a lawsuit at this most wonderful time of the year, beware of companies promising to bankroll lawsuits with loans that seem too good to be true. Word of warning: They are. Predatory lawsuit lenders seek to capitalize on people in dire financial straits, strapped for cash when holiday bills may be mounting. Shamelessly, these companies often ramp up their operations during the holiday season, staffing up as Legal Bay LLC recently advertised “to brace for the busy Holiday Funding Season.”

Firms such as these operate almost regulation free in Texas, often preying on legal consumers when they’re at their most vulnerable state. These firms guarantee instant cash — which can be used for presents and festivities — for a lawsuit, and subsequently charge extremely high interest rates. Despite the best efforts of leaders in the Texas Legislature, these companies remain unregulated.

Ridiculous lawsuits clog up the already overloaded court dockets across the country and delay or dilute justice for the truly injured. Consider how many truly injured citizens saw their day in court pushed back while judges were forced to contend with foolish cases.

It can be the most wonderful time of the year, if we protect ourselves against excessive litigation and predatory lawsuit lenders. Let’s resolve this New Year to renew the commitment to common sense reforms that protect small business owners, families and our communities from lawsuit abuse.

— Febe Zepeda is executive director of Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.