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Senator Calls For Limits On ADA Suits

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After a number of businesses were targeted with what some have deemed to be predatory lawsuits, one senator is threatening to rein in litigation over the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a letter to California state lawmakers this month, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she’s heard from numerous business owners in the state who claim they’ve had to pay thousands to settle cases centering on minor disability access violations.

She’s blaming state law which allows those who sue over ADA violations to seek damages, something that is not explicitly permitted by the federal act.

Feinstein cites the example of 22 Redlands, Calif. businesses who were sued by the same attorney because they did not post signs near their handicapped parking spaces indicating that violators would be towed. For the failure, she says that businesses ended up paying between $5,000 and $14,000 each.

“I proudly support the ADA, and the ability it has given to people with special needs to have access to the facilities and services they require to lead healthy, productive lives,” Feinstein wrote in her letter to the state senate president, which was first reported by Law.com. “However… I am troubled by reports that these lawsuits may unfairly and unnecessarily threaten the viability of some small businesses in our state.”

Feinstein asked state lawmakers to address the issue but said that she is considering taking action at the federal level if they do not.

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. msamericanpatriot says:

    Tough sh$t senator. They have it coming to them when they would rather hire the illegal than make reasonable accommodations for the disabled. We the Disabled are tired of being short sighted.

  2. Amber Dame says:

    People are filing lawsuits because that is the only way the businesses would listen, they are choosing to get involved in lawsuits rather than spending less money just to make their business accessible.

  3. rhonda says:

    If getting sued is what it takes to make someone listen, so be it!
    Who cares how much it costs them?

  4. Marty Houk says:

    As troubling as are the threats to business is that these suits are brought by bottom-feeding class action attorneys, whose motivation has nothing to do with assisting the disabled population. . .

  5. annie says:

    Until I can access my own bank, downtown shops, restaurants, or even school, I feel that if anything the ADA needs to be more stringent. This whole “undue hardship” loophole sucks. Where I live for example there are a lot of historic buildings, and it’s considered an undue hardship to alter them for accessibility, until a person in a wheelchair’s integrity is worth as much as a historic building’s, I don’t want to see any limitations put on a person’s ability to take a business to court.

  6. Sharon Toji says:

    Senator Feinstein sadly needs a lesson in the history of the disability laws in California. First, on the very specific instance cited, of the lack of towaway signs (and even more often, the lack of information on those signs that states where cars how cars can be retrieved when they are towed) without those signs, anyone can park in the disabled parking spaces and scoff at the laws, because they cannot be towed without the correctly filled in towaway sign. When reserved parking spaces are taken by those who are are not disabled, people with disabilities are often thwarted in their attempts to visit businesses, government buildings, or recreational and cultural venues. Those signs can be obtained directly by the businesses for a modest sum, and they can get the lettering to fill in the blanks on the signs quickly and inexpensively from any store that sells vinyl lettering.

    Inexpensive and easily obtained signs are often the key to access for older businesses, who may merely need to direct someone to an alternate, accessible entrance that is not immediately visible, or inform someone that they can push a buzzer and obtain curbside service.

    And does a restroom sign that can be read by touch by the soldier who has returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, blinded, seem quite so trivial, when you consider the dignity it affords to be able to find the correct restroom on your own when you are with your friends at a restaurant, and not have to be led like a child to the “bathroom?”

    Signs aside, however, the fact is that businesses have not only had 20 years to start the process of barrier removal, but would have been able to get tax credits every year as they took the step by step approach that the government encouraged. All of us in business know that most of us had some very good years during that 20 year span.

    On top of that, does Senator Feinstein know that California has already passed a business friendly law to mitigate these very complaints? The California Certified Access Specialist Program has been adapted for that very purpose, and any business who engages a certified specialist for a survey and report, gets a 90 day mediation period if someone lodges a complaint.

    California now has over 400 certified access specialists, all of whom have paid large fees to the state to be accepted for testing, for the exam itself, and for the actual certificate, and many of them invested significant sums in special workshops and study materials as well. However, the report from many of them is that business people don’t want to pay for the service. They prefer to take their chances. I myself have been told by a number of people, “when someone sues me, I’ll do something about it.” I have written letters to hotels where I’ve stayed, and pointed out deficiencies at various businesses, all in the spirit of helping them, since I am not, myself, disabled. Normally, I get a polite and non-committal smile. One time, a hotel actually replied, with the offer of a five dollar off certificate! Friends who are disabled tell me that they have copies of dozens of unanswered letters.

    In my opinion, if there are indeed predatory attorneys out there, they are well matched by the attorneys who counsel businesses that they can “beat” the laws more cheaply than they can remove barriers by lobbying “business friendly” legislators and city staffs. And would most people with disabilities have become discouraged and angry enough to bring these suits if they had seen more compliance, particularly on these easy fixes like parking signs, over the last 20 years?

    Oh, by the way, how about all the small businesses that do minor construction work, the small architectural firms who specialize in accessibility, the small sign shops who have the signs to sell? Did anyone ever stop to think that access is also a job generator for small business?

    Senator Feinstein: You need to hear both sides of the story!

  7. Annee says:

    I am a supporter of access for the handicapped, however, PREDATORY lawsuits, should be stopped. This means some lawyer is driving around and nit-picking. I do believe that the ADA has over-reached in many ways. The dust has not settled on the recent ruling that hotels, schools, any business with a pool MUST provide a electric assist for crippled people to get into the pool. Many had already invested in removable apparatus but are now being told that they must have PERMANENT apparatus. Why? Not for safety, but because it wasn’t “welcoming” to the handicapped if they had to request the apparatus. WHAT? This could result in small motels, parks, etc. closing their pools. Hotel/motel pools are not supervised. A permanent apparatus would be subject to vandalism (we all have seen those certain hooligans in the motels). A removable apparatus, which is brought out and installed by an employee would seem to be much safer in the long run. Some hotels/motels will NEVER see a single person use these devices, yet they all must have them. My thought is if you are a handicapped swimmer, patronize the hotels that have the devices, leave the rest alone. Not all hotels take pets either. We shop around.

  8. Annee says:

    I have just read a few of these comments and I am sorry for those who have use their handicap to bully people. One person mentioned having a braille sign to lead the blind to a restroom because it was demeaning to have to be led to it. Excuse me? I am not handicapped, just directionally challenged and have no problem asking for directions to the restroom. And the person who thought that historic buildings were less important than her integrity. I doubt that it is that simple. The cost of reconfiguring a historic building can be prohibitive. I know that years of high curbs and stairs have taken their toll on the handicapped, and perhaps now they are going overboard, and more reasonable heads need to prevail.

    Note: My father had one hand, the other lost in a machine accident. He lived 65 years with that handicap, and NEVER viewed it as a handicap. No artificial hand. He became a gifted builder and woodworker, drove a stick shift, etc. When he was 80, he broke his hip. Determined to walk, he created a contraption that allowed him to use a walker with a broken hip and one hand. He refused to put a handicap parking sticker on his car. Now HE had pride and integrity.

  9. Nicole LeBlanc says:

    Well tough , Then the government needs to give $$$ financial incentives for businesses to fully comply with the law!! Not complying with the law is unacceptable! It needs to be enforced! America is NOT A FREE Country unless Everyone with a Disability has = Opportunity and access to jobs, public buildings etc.
    FREE OUR PEOPLE NOW!

  10. Sylvia B. says:

    I can see both sides of the issue. However, Senator Feinstein does have a point. In the neighborhood I live in (Richmond District of San Francisco) , a predatory ADA lawyer has been targeting small, mom and pop businesses for several months now. Several of them have closed as a result, being unable to pay the costs of the lawsuit and damages the suits were asking for – we’re not talking about the costs of construction, but, in one case, $5,000 *per day* in “damages” the lawyer has been asking for. The same lawyer has filed dozens of ADA lawsuits citywide.

    One of the businesses was a 30+ years old cheap diner that was the main meeting and meals place for low income neighborhood seniors who now have no other place to go to. Employees, a number of whom have worked there for decades and are seniors themselves are out of a livelihood. The issue raised could have been easily remedied. (I’ve seen people in wheelchairs using the diner comfortably and without complaint for years.) But, due to being unable to pay the excessive damages, this business is now gone.

    All businesses should be ADA compliant. But, the law should allow a business to correct any issues within a reasonable time limit before the penalties kick in.

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