BG Treeman owner Lamb, subject of price-gouging suit, seeks dismissal

Published 4:19 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

By Justin Story, Bowling Green Daily News

The owner of a local tree removal business has requested he be dismissed as a defendant in a lawsuit that accuses him of price gouging customers in the aftermath of the deadly 2021 tornadoes that ravaged Bowling Green.

The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office filed the lawsuit in August against Ben Lamb and his company, BG Treeman, alleging that he and his company charged “grossly excessive prices” for tree removal services between Dec. 11, 2021, and April 14, 2022, the period after the storm during which emergency price gouging laws were in effect amid an officially declared state of emergency.

Lamb’s attorney, Matt Baker, filed a motion last month to have Lamb dismissed as a defendant.

Baker argued in the filing, and in a hearing Monday in Warren Circuit Court, that the customers who hired Lamb’s company for tree removal work entered into a contract with the company, relying on a reading of state law and a Kentucky Supreme Court decision holding that an officer representing the corporation cannot be held individually liable for damages for any breach of that contract.

“It would be like if I were to enter into a contract with Walmart – if I have a dispute about it, I can’t sue Sam Walton, my issue is with Walmart,” Baker said at Monday’s hearing.

Paul Fata, an attorney with the Office of Consumer Protection in the state attorney general’s office, said that Lamb is not insulated from liability in this case, arguing that the owner of a company can be held liable for Kentucky Consumer Protection Act violations and price-gouging violations when the owner actively participated in the unlawful activity or was aware that it took place and did nothing about it.

“We believe this is someone who personally lied to customers, who personally falsified invoices … who threatened customers with liens,” Fata said.

The lawsuit brought by the state accuses Lamb and his company of misrepresenting the number of hours worked, number of personnel involved, equipment used and the size and number of trees removed during the period of emergency.

BG Treeman is also accused in the suit of threatening to place liens on the homes of storm victims when they refused to pay the company’s prices, with the state claiming that Lamb and his company sent some customers a document titled “Notice of Intent to File a Lien” that allegedly required customers to pay the entire balance of their invoices within 10 days to avoid having a lien placed on their homes.

Warren Circuit Judge J.B. Hines said he would take the motion to dismiss under advisement and issue a ruling at a future date.

The state is seeking restitution for any affected customers and civil penalties against Lamb and his company, with up to $10,000 being sought for each violation of the state Consumer Protection Act directed at anyone aged 60 or older and up to $2,000 for all other violations of the consumer protection act.

On the price gouging allegations, the lawsuit seeks up to $5,000 in penalties for the first substantiated violation and up to $10,000 for each subsequent violation.

Baker said during Monday’s hearing that the lawsuit remains in its early stages. Court filings do not identify the number of customers alleged to have been wronged, and neither Lamb nor any customers have yet given sworn testimony at a deposition.

“There has been no (production of) discovery (evidence) at this point,” Baker said.