Filing predatory lawsuits over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act has become so prevalent that the weekly news show ’60 Minutes” recently ran a segment on the practice, and more of this litigation is filed in California than in any other state. One reason for the disproportionate amount of serial litigation in the Golden State is a law that increases the amount that plaintiffs can recover in ADA lawsuits from the $1,000 per violation allowed by the 1990 statute to $4,000. The defendants in ADA cases in California are also required to cover the legal costs of both sides.
This law has created a situation where a small number of lawyers and plaintiffs in California are using ADA lawsuits to earn damages rather than improve accessibility for the disabled. The ’60 Minutes” segment, which aired in December 2016, showed attorneys using online resources like Google Maps to identify small and medium-sized businesses that could be violating obscure provisions of the ADA. These provisions include highly specific requirements for mirror and sign placement and the exact wording of notices, and the damages business owners are ordered to pay can mount up quickly even when violations are the result of innocent mistakes.
One California law firm, which filed more than 600 ADA lawsuits in 2015 and 2016, is said to have recruited disabled individuals to check local businesses block by block and regulation by regulation to find violations. These plaintiffs claim to have originally believed that they were working to encourage businesses to comply with the ADA, and they have since filed litigation accusing the law firm of running a predatory lawsuit scheme.
Attorneys familiar with California real estate laws and the provisions of the ADA may be able to help small business and commercial real estate owners to avoid predatory litigation by ensuring that their properties meet the requirements laid down by state and federal law. Attorneys could also advocate on behalf of the defendants in these cases by asserting that their clients have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law and the violations involved pose no immediate physical threat to the public.