May 26, 2015

Worthwhile effort to hobble ADA lawsuit abuse

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

State Sen. Richard Roth’s bill to encourage compliance with the American Disabilities Act, while enhancing protections for small-business owners, has passed early hurdles this month, a positive sign in a state wrought with often-abusive lawsuits.

When President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law in 1990, there was certainly no intention of empowering a relatively small number of litigious individuals to engage in a form legal extortion under the guise of advancing the rights of the disabled.

Yet that has too often been the reality of the ADA in states with civil justice systems long-ago skewed away from dispensing justice. Last year it was found that the Golden State leads the nation in ADA-related lawsuits, with more cases filed in California than in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas combined.

That’s in large part because California particularly incentivizes those seeking easy money to seek damages through the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which guarantees damages of at least $4,000 for any violation of any anti-discrimination law.

In California, it doesn’t matter if a violation is small, trivial or hardly perceptible. If certain signs aren’t in certain places, parking lots not precisely measured or doors not of certain dimensions, it is possible to claim these violations constitute discrimination and thus lead to settlements that can be painful to small businesses.

At this point in time, taking on the connection between the Unruh Act and the ADA is impossible. To propose separating the two to any degree will result in being cast as an enemy of the disabled, with no amount of logical or reason prevailing through the cacophony of outrage.

Sen. Roth, D-Riverside, proposes a more modest set of solutions that are still worth supporting. The proposals, by way of SB251, include business tax credits for enhancing accessibility and, most significantly, provide a pathway for business owners to be protected from violations of accessibility standards with timely fixes.

The California Chamber of Commerce has flagged the bill as a “job creator.”

While there are sure to be particular details that need more fleshing out, Mr. Roth’s bill is one of the better bills on ADA compliance seen in a while. At some point common sense must prevail and business-owners should be given a chance to fix any violations before being subject to abusive lawsuits.


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