June 08, 2015

Americans with Disabilities Act tort reform needed

By The Press-Enterprise Editorial Board | The Press-Enterprise

Americans care about helping the disabled. The 1990 federal Americans With Disabilities Act made discrimination against the disabled illegal. After that, California made violating the ADA also a violation of the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, with damages no less than $4,000 per violation.

Unfortunately, some lawyers have abused the ADA by filing frivolous lawsuits. To curb such abuses while still protecting the disabled, last week the California Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 251. If passed in the Assembly and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it significantly will protect small business owners from costly and pointless ADA lawsuits.

State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, proposed the bill after significant ADA lawsuit abuses in the Riverside area. We urge passage of the bill to curb such misuses of the law and the court system.

Sen. Roth’s bill would exempt small business owners from liability if they correct such violations within 15 days of receiving a complaint. Further, the bill would protect business owners from liability if their businesses are inspected by a certified access specialist and any identified violations are corrected within 90 days.

“SB251 is a critical step in guaranteeing access for disabled Californians by providing small businesses with the tools and resources necessary to comply with often changing and at times complex disability access laws,” said Sen. Roth in a statement.

In a statement opposing the bill, Disability Rights California argued, “Even if notice is properly provided, and the barriers are removed within the specified time frames, the aggrieved party is not entitled to statutory damages for the harm encountered. …This is a policy the state of California should not endorse or promote.”

It is true that legislation giving business owners some time to bring their property to compliance with the ADA will limit opportunities for lawsuits.

Certainly, more must be done to educate business and property owners about their responsibilities to follow the ADA. There must also be an understanding that those standards constantly change and professional litigants are out there with an eye for the most insignificant of violations.

Mr. Roth’s bill isn’t perfect. But it certainly is better than allowing more business owners to be victimized by litigants draping themselves in the cloak of civil rights protection.


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