It is now official. There is a law in California that protects businesses from so called “predatory” lawsuits filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The purpose of this law is to protect the finances of business owners. It is not designed to protect the rights of people who have disabilities.
This week, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed SB1186, the bill that was made by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, (who is a Democrat), and Senator Bob Dutton, (who is a Republican). The law is going to protect businesses in California from what has been referred to as “frivolous” or “predatory” lawsuits filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Let me make this clear: the law will protect businesses who are violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
The law bans something called a “demand letter”. This type of letter is one sent by a lawyer to a business who has violated the ADA. The letter includes a threat to sue the business over the violation unless the business pays thousands of dollars to settle. The law also prevents lawyers from stacking multiple claims for one violation as a way to increase the payout.
Another part of the law reduces damages for businesses that fix unintended violations within two months. It is worth noting that the law does preserve the right for people to sue the business for full liability for intentional violations of the ADA.
The Americans With Disabilities Act requires businesses, restaurants, and other public places, to have bathrooms that are large enough for a person to fit a wheelchair into. It requires that there be ramps and elevators alongside places that have stairs. It requires that sidewalks be a certain size, and that stores keep their aisles clear so that people who use wheelchairs can get through the aisles.
These are just a few of the regulations within the ADA. None of the regulations within the ADA would be described as “frivolous” or “predatory” by a reasonable person.
Senate leader Darrell Steinburg released a statement that included:
“The whole point of our state and federal disability access laws is to remove barriers for the disabled, giving them full and equal access to businesses like everyone else. Up until now unfortunately, it was often cheaper and quicker for business owners to settle out of court than to remove those obstacles”.
Personally, I think this new law creates a “loophole” for nefarious business owners to use in order to save money. Instead of making their stores ADA compliant, the business owner can wait until he or she is caught violating the ADA. Next, the business owner can insist that it wasn’t done intentionally. This gives the owner two months to fix a violation. It also makes it more difficult for a person who has a disability to file a lawsuit against a business that violates the ADA.
Image by LaPrimaDonna on Flickr