A two-hour morning workshop aimed at helping businesses avoid disability access lawsuits will be held Sept. 25 in Modesto.
“The focus is, ‘Here’s what you may not know about (the Americans with Disabilities Act). We’re here to let you know what’s required,’ ” said Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien, who will make opening remarks.
“At the end, it’s a win-win because your disabled customers have better access to your business and you have a less likely chance of being sued,” continued O’Brien, whose family runs grocery stores. “We in business want every single customer we can get through the door.”
Four people and their attorneys have filed more than 50 lawsuits against companies in Stanislaus and Merced counties, all claiming that premises violate ADA requirements. The federal law, enacted in 1990, is bolstered by companion legislation unique to California that makes legal challenges much more profitable in this state.
The four plaintiffs are serial filers, having brought at least 820 lawsuits up and down the state. One is a convicted pedophile and thief who has traveled to California for 13 years to sue businesses, The Modesto Bee reported last month. Two others live in Southern California.
Their attorneys portray them as champions of the disabled, while some businesses say their demands amount to extortion. Legislators blame each other for failing to enact meaningful reform.
Attorney Richard Frampton said his Turlock firm has defended a handful of local companies that were threatened with legal action but not sued. That’s because he and his partner negotiated settlements, typically a few thousand dollars, to keep plaintiffs at bay.
Several companies that were sued also paid thousands of dollars to settle, which they deemed less expensive than going to trial. At least two restaurants, one each in Ripon and Los Banos, closed rather than engage in legal battles.
The Stanislaus Business Alliance in late July produced an ADA business primer and will sponsor the Sept. 25 workshop with local chambers of commerce and officeholders. The message will focus on what companies can do to comply with the law, said Dave White, the alliance’s executive director.
Some experts have said legal loopholes can be exploited to find ADA violations in most restaurants, stores and offices throughout California. Businesses say trying to satisfy every interpretation is like trying to hit a moving target.
“We will continue to educate Stanislaus County businesses until we feel every business is well-informed,” White said.
The workshop will feature Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, and a panel of experts. Stone’s group is Sacramento’s leading lobbying organization for business and often is at odds with trial attorneys.
Stone has spoken at previous workshops in Escalon, Manteca and elsewhere. Her presentations feature dozens of photographs taken at shops showing violations that often are overlooked.