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There were about 100,000 attorneys in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Now, there are 1 million.
That's approximately 70 percent of the world's total, and 94 percent of all lawsuits across the globe are filed in this country. In dollar figures, the U.S. tort system costs more than $260 billion per year, about $880 per person.
Those statistics come from Beth Milito, senior executive counsel for the Legal Foundation of the National Federation of Independent Business. Speaking in Beaufort recently, she cited "the dramatic rise in the costs and the number of lawsuits" as one of the primary concerns of small-business owners.
Her presentation on 10 ways to stay out of court to about a dozen local small-business owners two weeks ago at Golden Corral was meant to address those concerns. She started with a "horror story" that highlighted America's leading litigation role:
A Pennsylvania man and his wife sued a general contractor and a small coal company for negligence, claiming $10 million in damages, after the man was injured in a portable toilet explosion. It happened when the man, a methane power plant operator, entered a portable toilet at the coal mine and tried to light a cigarette.
"When I struck the lighter, the whole thing just detonated. The whole top flew off. I can't tell you if it blew me out the door or if I jumped out," he told a local newspaper.
The basis for the negligence claim? The lawsuit said there was no sign on the portable toilet warning that smoking and open flame were forbidden.
"No common sense, right?" Milito said. "So rather than naively hoping that the lawsuit insanity will just pass your business by," she offers the following 10 steps business owners can take to help ward off the threat of a lawsuit.
A male director of nursing was accused of quizzing female employees about their sex lives two to three times a week in front of other employees, including asking them if they took men home the previous night. When the women asked him to stop, he threatened to fire them.
"At trial, he admitted he was questioning the women this way because he thought that if they had a lot of sexual activity the night before, it would affect their work performance because they would be tired -- that's what he said. I can't believe this case even went to trial," Milito said. The jury awarded each woman $7,500.
<strong>What else is going on?</strong>
Brothers Tony and Eddie Yahav last week opened a new Barefoot Bubba's at 722 Bay St., formerly the site of Picket Fence.
The Yahavs also plan to open two Islands Surf shops. The first store, at 2137 Sea Island Parkway, is expected to open in about three weeks. Another Islands Surf is expected to open in mid-May at 808 Sea Island Parkway.
The owner of the property, John Trask Jr., said he thinks the Tapias are trying to sell the restaurant. The Tapias could not be reached for comment.
<strong>And finally ...
This is my final Biz Pulse column for The Beaufort Gazette. I'm headed 600 miles north on Interstate 95, back to Baltimore, but Beaufort will always be home. Thanks for all the information and feedback over the past six months, and I'll see you at a few Water Festivals down the road.