The well-intended Americans with Disabilities Act law has brought about unintended consequences including lawsuit abuse against small business owners, the head of a citizens group told members on Tuesday.
"Lawyers are taking advantage and closing businesses," Tom Scott, executive director of the California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said during a lunch at . "I want the predatory lawsuits to stop and I want to move the ball on ADA compliance."
Scott, who said he's been following local ADA lawsuits for about 10 years, added that officials from the federal to state and local levels have left ADA enforcement up to trial lawyers. Among the lawyers is Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson, who in October sued five shops in , claiming those businesses didn't have
Johnson, whose name earned a smattering of boos from the business crowd Tuesday, has also sued businesses around the region.
With a bill pending in the California state legislature that would restrict how such lawsuits are filed, disability advocates and legal reform groups are clashing over whether the suits are unnecessarily harmful to businesses. Passed by the Senate in May, SB1186 would give business owners 30 days notice before they're sued and force commercial landlords to notify tenants whether their property has certified disability access.
Under both California and federal law, businesses can be held liable if they didn't provide proper access to disabled customers. Since the 1990 Americans With Disability Act, nearly 30,000 civil lawsuits have been filed for disability access violations. Businesses in California must pay at least $4,000 per violation if they're found liable under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a state anti-discrimination law.
Reform advocates say many of these lawsuits threaten the livelihoods of well-meaning California business owners who aren't experts on disability access laws.
"If we don't stop these lawyers and shut down the abuse that's occurring... then I can't support the bill," Scott said. "You've got to shut down state and federal avenues (of filing lawsuits) for these guys."
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