The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was enacted to ensure our businesses and their facilities are accessible to the physically disabled. Compliance with the act is enforced by private legal action and therein lies the problem. Up and down the valley expensive “gotcha lawsuits” have been filed against small businesses. These suits become a quick pay day for the lawyers that file them.
I have hosted a series of small business townhalls in the 8th Senate District to provide the local business community with practical information on compliance, and how to avoid and defend against these types of suits. Representatives from both Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and the Civil Justice Association of California have participated in my events and provided valuable information and advice to the attendees.
The townhall provided business owners with specific examples of violations that have been used to bring lawsuits and how to correct them. It also provided the names of local compliance experts who can help a business fix its problems before an ADA “gotcha” lawyer shows up and costs them a fortune. And it is a fortune…
In California, business owners face a civil penalty of $28,000, plus plaintiff’s attorney’s fees (which could run as high as $10,000 – or more — depending on how protracted the case becomes). Add to that the cost of defending the suit plus the expense of actually doing the work to make a business ADA compliant and the cost grows substantially.
It is very important for our businesses to understand the law and how to avoid lawsuits.
In 2008, Senate Republicans passed a bill that would require lawyers to send a Notice of Violation and give the business time to fix the problem before a lawsuit could be filed. It also reduced penalties that small businesses that made corrections could be forced to pay. Despite these reforms, trial lawyers continue to bilk businesses and more changes are needed.
I am a currently a coauthor of Assembly Bill 54 (AB 54) by Assemblymember Olsen. This bill puts the focus where it belongs – on curing ADA violations and increasing access for the disabled community. It would give businesses 60 days to correct ADA violations under certain specific construction-related situations.
Other current bills in the State legislature on the topic include, AB 53, a measure by Assemblymember Adam Gray that would reduce the maximum liability to $1,000 for each offense if the small business has corrected all construction-related violations (that are the basis of the claim) within 180 days of being served with the complaint.
In addition, Senator Galgiani has introduced Senate Bill 67 (SB 67), a measure that would limit recovery to correction of the violation and reasonable attorney’s fees in certain instances. It also would extend the period for correcting construction-related violations from 60 days to 120 days of being served with the complaint.
Creating jobs and allowing our businesses to grow and prosper does not have to be at odds with ADA compliance. I will certainly be watching these bills and advocating for the legal reforms necessary to reduce ‘gotcha lawsuits.” I will also continue to provide local businesses with the information they need to protect themselves from unnecessary legal action.