Tom Harman (R)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)—Small business owners say they plan to give California lawmakers an ear full today about how their livelihoods are being threatened by shakedown lawsuits filed over alleged ADA violations.
Mom and pop shops and other small and mid-sized businesses say a cottage industry has sprung up in the Golden State in which trial lawyers are filing lawsuits over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and state disability access laws.
Businesses, along with advocates for tort reform, plan to voice their concerns today at the first meeting of the California Commission on Disability Access.
“The ADA is law; people have to follow the law. We’ve never said anything against that,” said Tom Scott, executive director of Californians Against Lawsuit Abuse.
Scott said there is a “huge” education problem with the law, noting that many business owners simply are not aware of their responsibilities under the statute.
“Look, if 98 percent of the state is not compliant, then there is a bigger problem here, and it’s not because businesses are trying to alienate their customer base,” Scott said.
He said one of the goals of the advisory commission ought to be to increase voluntary compliance with state and federal ADA laws by creating a one-stop shop for businesses to learn about the law.
“We really need to educate businesses,” Scott told Legal Newsline in a telephone interview.
The 17-member ADA advisory panel has on it representatives from the state Legislature and the business and disabled communities.
The commission was created last year by bipartisan legislation — Senate Bill 1608 — backed by the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association. The bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“The CCDA efforts are intended to facilitate business compliance with applicable disabled access laws, building standards and regulations, and most importantly, to reduce and, if possible, avoid unnecessary litigation,” the commission says.
On the commission is state Sen. Tom Harman of Huntington Beach, vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Republican candidate for state attorney general.
Among business owners planning to attend the state Capitol hearing is Travis Hausauer, whose Squeeze Inn restaurant in Sacramento has been the target of two lawsuits that alleged violations of state law and the ADA.
The federal lawsuit, which has since been dropped, was filed in July by Kimberly Block of Sacramento. The 41-year-old wheelchair-bound woman has sued at least three other small businesses for ADA violations this year.
In her lawsuit — filed by attorney Jason Singleton of Eureka, Calif. — Block alleged that neither the front door nor parking at the popular burger joint was accessible to disabled patrons. She also said the restaurant’s seating area, which consists of 11 bar stools, was not handicap accessible.
The lawsuit sought to force Hausauer to make the improvements and to pay an unspecified amount for damages. When Block’s lawsuit came about Hausauer said he had already remodeled the restaurant’s unisex restroom to resolve an earlier ADA lawsuit.
Although the target of two ADA lawsuits in recent months, Hausauer said he sill believes the federal law offers disabled Americans landmark protections. But the law has created a “cottage industry” for trial lawyers to go after small businesses, he added.
“It is a good law and it went a long way to give equal access,” he told Legal Newsline. “The problem is there are no protections for business owners.”
From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.