A client called recently regarding a lawsuit she was served with that alleged that the parking lot for her business was not properly striped in compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). These claims can be brought in both state or federal court. The complaint alleges that the blue and white wheelchair symbol in the accessible parking space was faded and not adequately visible. Having been to the business myself and looking at the condition of the striping, I was disappointed to see another attorney would bring such a claim that, in my honest opinion, is an abuse of these important statutes.
While I certainly am in favor of enforcement of true and legitimate claims and wholeheartedly support equal access for all, this is one of a number of cases I have seen over the years that reminds me that there are predatory practices in every industry, including mine. Although the timing won’t help this client, there is new law relevant to a situation that affects so many small businesses in California. Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last month a bill aimed at helping businesses comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and reduce the growing threat of frivolous lawsuits.
Senate Bill 1186 seeks to reduce predatory ADA lawsuits, in particular, against small businesses in the state. Per the Sacramento Bee, Nearly 40 percent of ADA lawsuits in the nation are filed in California! The new law bans “demand for money” letters which direct businesses to pay a settlement in exchange for a settlement, often not requiring that the non-compliant issue be corrected. Before filing an ADA lawsuit, a plaintiff’s attorney must send a notice letter, indicating any alleged construction-related violations, at least 30 days before filing a lawsuit. It also prevents asserting multiple claims to increase damages and reduces damages against a business owner who corrects alleged violations within 30 to 60 days of receiving a complaint. This legislation should result in an increase in accessibility while reducing the number of suits filed that have a primary purpose of obtaining a monetary settlement. After all, shouldn’t accessibility be the real goal here?