WASHINGTON: Two building contractor lobbying groups are leading an industry-wide campaign to limit the liability of construction firms involved in recovery and rebuilding efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and Associated General Contractors of America are calling on Congress to approve legislation introduced September 8 in the House of Representatives ? the Good Samaritan Protection for Construction Volunteers Act ? that would grant limited immunity to construction firms when providing voluntary emergency construction assistance in response to a declared emergency or disaster. The legislation, however, would not shield contractors from liability in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
ABC sent a letter to the entire House on September 19, expressing its support for the bill and saying that contractors who volunteer their time and make the effort to assist in the rebuilding effort should not be subject to certain kinds of lawsuits, said Geoff Burr, ABC's director of legislative affairs.
Within the organization, ABC has tried to raise awareness of the issue among its 23,000 member firms by making the legislative initiative the lead story in its weekly newsletter. "If it were to pass the House, we would make a much bigger effort to make sure all of our members were aware of it," Burr said.
The concern over liability emerged from the lawsuits that were filed against construction companies that helped clean up and rebuild New York City following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. "People who went up there out of their own goodwill ended up having lawsuits hurled at them by people who work for them or outside entities," Burr said. "These are good actors and these are people doing their due diligence who shouldn't have to worry about what we would consider frivolous lawsuits."
Buddy Edens, president of ABC's Mississippi chapter, has been doing press interviews on a regular basis and working on the frontlines in the association's outreach efforts, because many of ABC's members in his state are involved in rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast, Burr said.