Calif. court: Businesses may be sued for unintentional ADA violations

Chris Rizo Jun. 12, 2009, 1:22pm

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-Business that violate the American with Disabilities Act can be sued in state court for damages even if the violations are not intentional, the California Supreme Court ruled.

The state's high court said when state lawmakers amended California's landmark Unruh Civil Rights Act in 1992 to include violations of the ADA, lawmakers afforded damages to people harmed by ADA violations.

Unlike federal law, California law allows victims of disability discrimination to sue for damages.

The ruling Thursday found that businesses that fail to accommodate disabled customers are subject to damages of at least $4,000 per violation, even if they don't intend to discriminate against them.

The court noted that the American with Disabilities Act isn't limited to intentional bias, but covers "the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation and communication barriers," just as state law does.

"The 2008 Legislature was informed - and may be presumed to have been aware - that damages under the Unruh Civil Rights Act might be awarded for denial of ADA mandated access without proof of intentional discrimination," Associate Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the court.

"Even if we agreed with defendant that adding an intent requirement to the Unruh Civil Rights Act would be warranted to curb abuse, we would not be free to substitute our own judgment for that of the Legislature," she added.

The original lawsuit was brought by Kenneth Munson of San Bernardino, Calif., who sued Del Taco because its restaurant in Loma Linda, Calif., did not provide disabled parking or handicapped-accessible public toilets.

The case is Munson v. Del Taco Inc., 09 C.D.O.S. 7253.

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