July 28, 2014

Primer seeks to help businesses prevent ADA lawsuits

The Stanislaus Business Alliance has creates a pamphlet to help business owners ward off lawsuits claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Businesses throughout Stanislaus County are being warned about drive-by lawsuits from attorneys and disabled people alleging that the companies aren’t wheelchair-friendly.

Four weeks after a Modesto Bee report about a rash of lawsuits in San Joaquin County, the Stanislaus Business Alliance has published a primer on the issue for business owners. It’s being circulated by the alliance, chambers of commerce across Stanislaus County and local representatives in the California Legislature.

“We feel it’s our obligation to do everything we can to help businesses succeed,” said David White, the alliance’s chief executive officer. “One thing that will endanger them is getting into a lawsuit when they’re not aware of the law.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that all businesses provide access to the disabled. Plaintiffs say companies have had plenty of time to comply and it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get them to treat all patrons well. Others contend that mass producing legal challenges amounts to a shakedown that can harm well-meaning shops operating on small profits.

Ripon’s Barnwood Restaurant, for example, closed soon after its owners were slapped with an ADA lawsuit. They said they could not afford to fight allegations of improper parking, ramp, handrail and restroom access, brought by a woman who they said took photographs outside without trying to enter.

Lawyers elsewhere in California have filed thousands of such lawsuits. A Stockton attorney told The Modesto Bee that he had brought 46 recent cases on behalf of clients.

“We want you to be aware of the allegations they are bringing,” the alliance’s primer reads. “We also want to give you practical advice on how you can avoid and defend yourself.”

Lawsuits typically find fault with parking, signs, ramps, doors and table height, the document says.

It encourages businesses not to “cave into pressure to settle upfront,” or cough up a few thousand dollars to make the threat go away. It also lists resources, including inspectors who can spot violations for business owners to fix in hopes of warding off lawsuits.

The alliance and chambers in late August intend to host a workshop for businesses, White said.

“This is a very good thing,” White said. “When companies understand the law, it’s going to help people who are disabled and will be good all around.”

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