Northern California Record

Sunday, December 15, 2019

ADA lawsuits one of biggest legal threats facing small businesses, watchdog says


By Zeta Cross | Aug 8, 2019


SACRAMENTO – Regional Director Maryann Marino of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse believes that one of the biggest legal threats facing small business owners is unwarranted Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, and the California Small Business Association agrees.

The goal of the ADA is to protect the rights of access for people with disabilities. Entities that violate the law are subject to fines, penalties - and litigation. 

Betty Jo Toccoli, president of the California Small Business Association (CSBA), says many of the lawsuits have no basis, and that scammers and unethical attorneys are filing hundreds of complaints.

More than 4,249 federal ADA lawsuits were filed in California in 2018, the highest of any state. 

“The thing that concerns me is the business owners quite often figure it costs them less to settle than to fight,” Toccoli said. 

CSBA members are getting more and more complaints about their websites violating ADA guidelines, she said. 

In 2010, the Department of Justice published the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, outlining how electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities.  

“Our members think they have met the requirements or they don’t even know about the requirements,” Toccoli said. She said governments that enact ADA laws should take more responsibility to help educate small-business owners on compliance.  

As Marino sees it, the problem is that any individual can file an ADA complaint against a business even if some of those individuals have never visited the business.

The business owner may receive a letter from an attorney to settle the allegations. Marino said that attorneys and their clients count on the fact that many small businesses will not defend themselves in court.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin sued four Riverside County attorneys in April who allegedly filed fraudulent lawsuits against small-business owners. The attorneys named in the suit are James Rutherford, Babak Hashemi, Joseph Manning Jr., Craig Cote and Michael Manning. Also named as defendants are law firms Manning Law and the Law Offices of Babak Hashemi.

Marino says more California district attorneys should follow Hestrin’s example.

“CALA applauds Riverside District Attorney Mike Hestrin and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office for its efforts to correct a long overdue wrong, abusive lawsuits filed against small businesses under the Americans with Disability Act,” Julie Griffiths and Marino, regional directors for Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said in a statement.

The Riverside complaint states that the named attorneys “colluded, conspired and/or otherwise agreed to engage in an ADA lawsuit scheme, designed to defraud, extract and/or extort money settlements from Riverside County individuals and businesses, based on the fraud, misrepresentations and false allegations contained in each and every one of the federal lawsuits.” 

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