In the spring of 2003, two Canada geese landed in the planter outside of Contemporary Watercrafters, a small pool maintenance business in Maryland owned by Howard Weiss. After several weeks, Howard and his business manager, Kelly Reed, contacted the Humane Society about having the geese relocated because they were pooping in front of the store.
Because the geese were protected under the Migratory Species Act, Howard and Kelly were informed that it would have been illegal to disturb the geese. So they put up tape around the planter, posted signs, and waited for the geese to hatch their goslings and move on.
Unbeknownst to Howard and Kelly, the male goose had flapped his wings, honked, and snapped at a woman walking to the fabric store next door to Watercrafters. Startled, she fell on the sidewalk.
Two years later, Howard and Kelly were served with papers announcing that the woman was suing Watercrafters for $750,000, alleging that the goose was Watercrafters’ responsibility.
“We really didn’t have anything to do with the goose other than it was in front of our store,” said Howard.
After extensive preparations, Watercrafters was forced to go to trial. Fortunately, the jury determined that Watercrafters had not been negligent. “It’s possible that, if this lawsuit had come away with a large verdict, it could have caused us to close our doors.”
Howard says that the costs of lawsuit abuse to small businesses are not just financial. They include “the time taken away from your business — the way you run your business. You start to second guess how you do business because you’re worried about the next lawsuit, and that’s not the way to run a company.”
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