Lawmakers in California introduced reforms in 2016 that were designed to reduce the number of predatory lawsuits filed against business owners for violations of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, but the data suggests that more needs to be done. The disability litigation problem is an especially thorny one in California due to the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. The federal penalty for ADA violations is $1,000, but this rises to $4,000 in the Golden State. Defendants must also pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees in these cases under the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
The ADA is a landmark law, but it can be extremely difficult for business owners to comply with its myriad requirements. A minor oversight or mistake like a faded disabled parking space sign or a bathroom mirror mounted an inch too high could lead to a lawsuit, and this has made California fertile ground for predatory litigation. Only 12 percent of America’s disabled population live in California, but more than 40 percent of the nation’s ADA lawsuits are filed in the state. Court records reveal that most of these lawsuits were initiated by two law firms on behalf of just 14 plaintiffs.
Litigation can be ruinously expensive, and small and medium-sized business owners often settle ADA lawsuits to avoid protracted court battles. The rules introduced in 2016 give business owners more time to address ADA issues, but experts say that this alone is not enough to solve the problem. In March, an assembly bill that would have given judges in California more discretion when faced with serial litigants failed to make it beyond the committee stage.
Attorneys with experience in this area may be able to help business owners to avoid this type of litigation by clearly explaining the provisions of the ADA and the kind of violations that could prompt lawsuits. Attorneys could also urge commercial property owners and landlords to address accessibility issues promptly when ADA violations are visible from the street or can be seen using internet mapping software.