ADA & Disabilities

“Drive-By Lawsuits” Against Business an Unfortunate By-Product of ADA, Says Disability Group Leader

The best defense against Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, whatever their motivation: Comply with the letter … and the spirit … of the law.

Andrew Imparato doesn’t want you to get sued for failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

That’s rather ironic since, as president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, Imparato’s job is to make sure disabled persons get open access to, and fair treatment in, places of business like yours. And lawsuits are a primary weapon for making that happen.

What concerns Imparato, however, is that recently ADA lawsuits have been used in so-called “drive-by” fashion. He believes these suits build negative attitudes toward ADA, and divert discussion from the law’s real goal of helping the disabled.

In “drive-by” ADA suits, businesses suddenly get a letter from an attorney, probably unknown to them, informing them that they are out of compliance with ADA. Reasons are usually some very visible violations. (See list below.)

The attorney, who may be from out-of-area or even out-of-state, threatens an immediate suit unless the business not only fixes the problem but also pays attorney fees and other costs. These usually amount to thousands of dollars.

“These boutique law firms make a business of filing 75 claims at a time, and it leads to a strong backlash against the ADA,” says Imparato. “The purpose of these laws is not to shake down businesses. It’s to improve accessibility.”

Courts starting to take notice

The courts have started to take notice of the issue, recently barring a California plaintiff who filed some 300 ADA-related suits in a 6-year period from filing any more without court permission. However, the upside is that the suits have brought to the attention of businesses violations that do exist. Some violations commonly cited:

–Parking lot handicapped spaces have worn, blue striping or missing signs
–Building entrance doors have no blue handicapped entrance signs, or directions to accessible entrances
–Doors have knobs rather than more easily manipulated handles
–Bathrooms have supply cabinets under sinks, blocking wheelchair access
–Counters are too high to be reached by a person in a wheelchair
–Access through aisles and passageways is blocked by items accumulated over time that could easily be cleared away

The cost of fixing such items is often minor, say disability law experts, and almost always far less than that of dealing with legal action, whether motivated by money or, more commonly, by a legitimate desire to improve access to the disabled.

At the end of the day, Imparato and others like him would much rather see their goal of equal access realized than to see employers in court. And they stand ready to assist businesses in complying with both the letter and spirit of ADA.

“Start a dialogue with your local disability organization,” Imparato urges.