10/29/04 — Burr calls for tort reform

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Burr calls for tort reform

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on October 29, 2004 2:02 PM

Congress needs to pass tort reform as an incentive for businesses to grow, U.S. Rep. Richard Burr said in Goldsboro Thursday.

"Congress needs to spend some time determining how we can allow companies ... to continue to be innovative," Burr said to a group of Franklin Bakery Co. employees.

Burr, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, said that the threat of lawsuits is crippling U.S. industries.

"The No. 1 problem facing business is liability issues," Burr said. Many companies are afraid to grow too big "because the bigger they are, the more attractive they are for lawsuits."

Large jury awards are also pushing up health care costs, which stifles job growth, the congressman said. Many companies are paying their current employees overtime, rather than adding employees because of the high cost of benefits.

Insurance companies have compounded the matter by choosing to settle many frivolous lawsuits, rather than fight them in court, he added. "Then what happens? Everyone's premiums go up.

"We've created this monster because we weren't ready to go in and cut off its head at the beginning."

Burr favors limiting the amount of jury awards in civil lawsuits. He would also support allowing judges to require people who bring frivolous lawsuits to pay the legal expenses of those companies they sue, he said.

Burr and his wife, Brooke, were invited to tour Franklin Bakery Thursday morning and meet employees by the company's president, Tom Buffkin. Buffkin said that he had followed Burr's career for several years and believes him to be "a proponent of our free enterprise system."

Burr's Democratic opponent is Erskine Bowles.

Before the tour, Buffkin gave the congressman an overview of Franklin Bakery and its parent company, Flower Foods.

The Goldsboro plant operates 168 hours a week and produces, on average, a million pounds of loaf bread and 1.2 million pounds of buns a week, Buffkin said. It has 443 employees and another 187 independent contractors.

In 2003, the plant used 50 million pounds of flour, he said. It took around 1,125,000 bushels of wheat to produce that flour, and about 28,000 acres to grow that wheat.

The plant also uses about 2 million pounds of shortening in a year, he said. That requires around 180,000 bushels of soybeans, which grew on around 4,500 acres.

The company spent $26.5 million with North Carolina suppliers during a recent year, he added.

Buffkin also discussed the company's marketing and growth strategies, as well as its newest products. A low-carb bread has been the most popular introduction in Flowers history, he said.

Burr praised the company's aggressiveness. "It's also great to be in a business that's not up against foreign competition," he said with a laugh.

For more information on Burr, go to www.burrforsenate.com.