Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 20, 2012, 11:00am
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a bill aimed at helping businesses comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, without facing the ever-growing threat of frivolous lawsuits.
Brown, a former state attorney general, signed Senate Bill 1186 Wednesday.
The bill, authored by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, intends to curb predatory ADA lawsuits, in particular against small businesses in the state.
Nearly 40 percent of ADA lawsuits in the nation are filed in California.
Specifically, the legislation bans "demand for money" letters. In these letters, lawyers often order businesses to pay a set amount, plus their exorbitant legal fees, in exchange for dropping the case.
In addition, SB 1186 requires attorneys to send a notice letter, listing any alleged construction-related violations, at least 30 days before filing a lawsuit.
It also prevents "stacking" of multiple claims to increase monetary damages, requiring a plaintiff to explain the need for multiple visits to the same business with a known uncorrected barrier to access.
SB 1186 also significantly reduces damages against business owners who correct alleged violations within 30 to 60 days of receiving a complaint.
Also, the legislation requires landlords to disclose whether their buildings or properties are state certified and in compliance with ADA laws.
"We are extremely pleased that Gov. Brown recognized that disabled access lawsuits are out of control and that change was needed," Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, said in a statement Wednesday.
CJAC is an industry-sponsored group that advocates for legal reform.
"This bill should provide some relief to small business owners who are making good faith efforts to comply and it should help reign in unscrupulous plaintiffs' lawyers who have been exploiting the Americans with Disabilities Act for financial gain," Stone said.
"There was little optimism going into 2012 that the Legislature would address this issue, but thanks to (U.S.) Sen. Dianne Feinstein's advocacy and the persistence of (state) Sens. Steinberg and Dutton, a legitimate attempt at reform has now been enacted."
Stone thanked Brown for signing the bill, and said she hopes it will make a "significant difference."
In a statement Wednesday, Steinberg said SB 1186 is a compromise that applies a "common sense approach" to resolve difficult issues.
"The whole point of our state and federal disability access laws is to remove barriers for the disabled, giving them full and equal access to businesses like everyone else. Up until now, unfortunately, it was often cheaper and quicker for business owners to settle out of court than to remove those obstacles," he said.
"SB 1186 will instead provide more incentives to fix the violations and enhance accessibility."
The bill is an urgency measure, meaning it will take effect immediately.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.