WASHINGTON– U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-42) is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice today in favor of a new bill he introduced earlier this year seeking to protect small businesses from the widespread abuse of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by plaintiffs’ lawyers who Calvert says are “trying to enrich themselves on the backs of the disabled.”
The ACCESS (ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services) Act, also known as H.R 241, would require an aggrieved person to notify a business of an ADA violation in writing, and give the business owner 60 days to provide the aggrieved individual a detailed description of improvements to remedy the violation. Then, the owner would have 120 days to remove the infraction. Failure to meet these conditions would be grounds to further the lawsuit.
“The Civil Justice Association of California supports this legislation because it would do two things: one, reduce the extortionate ADA lawsuits that are more about money than about justice; and two, would lead to increased access for the disabled,” Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, told the Northern California Record.
The ADA was enacted in 1990 by Congress, and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities.
Over the years, countless lawsuits have been filed against entities by plaintiffs claiming that the companies in question violated the ADA by not catering to people with disabilities. Many small businesses with modest budgets have taken a hit financially as a result, leaving many business owners concerned.
“The access goals of the ADA are noble -- unfortunately a small number of unscrupulous lawyers are using ADA lawsuits as a way to get quick lucrative settlements," Stone said. "Many of these cases settle for money and don't even require the business to become compliant! If businesses were notified of the problem before a lawsuit was filed, they could fix it. This would prevent the need for a lawsuit and would also increase access for the disabled.”
According to the California Commission on Disability Access’ 2015 Annual Report to the California State Legislature, there were 2,323 federal and state ADA complaints submitted to the commission in 2015. This number does not include demand letters. Forty percent of the complaints were filed by two law firms, 70 percent of the complaints were filed by six law firms.
Interestingly, 69 percent of plaintiffs involved in construction-related accessibility complaints filed 10 or more complaints in 2015 alone.
“California has become ground zero for ADA lawsuit abuse,” Calvert told the Northern California Record.
As a property owner himself, Calvert said he has been on the receiving end of complaints by people who find minor discrepancy in a building or in following the regulations, and instead of being given time to correct the infraction, owners get slapped with lawsuits and “lawyers get rich.”
“We all want to have access (for) the disabled; we just don’t want to make this an excuse for lawyers to sue small business owners,” he said. “Nobody is objecting to making sure that we have access for the disabled.”
Calvert said some of the infractions are really minor, like not having a sign in the right location or neglecting to paint a line in the right way.
“Give them a chance to fix it and comply with the law rather than filing a lawsuit and paying this lawyer a lot of money," Calvert said. "That doesn’t do anybody any good."
ADA lawsuits are particularly prevalent in California. Forty percent of the nation’s ADA lawsuits are filed in the state, yet only 12 percent of the country’s population resides in California, according to the California Chamber of Commerce.
On May 12, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation aiming to protecting small businesses from costly lawsuits over technical ADA violations.
Senate Bill 269, sponsored by Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside), gives businesses 15 days to fix minor ADA violations once a complaint or written notification has been received. The violations covered by the law include faded or damaged paint in parking lots.
“This is not a Republican/Democrat issue,” Calvert said. “This is just a common-sense solution to a problem. This is supposed to help people that are disabled, not help some attorney get his kids through college.”
But he’s expecting resistance from those “trying to enrich themselves on the backs of the disabled.”
“I don’t think those guys really give a hoot about the disabled; they care about their own bank accounts,” he said.
Calvert has never had a complaint from disabled groups about being given a chance to fix infractions. In fact, people with disabilities want to get the problem fixed to make sure they get access, he said.
“This is the kind of thing that is common-sense stuff, and I think we need to get this passed as soon as possible," he said.