SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - A bill aimed at helping businesses deal with lawsuits brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act unanimously passed the California Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1186 would ban "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. The bill was authored by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga.

"The issue of shakedown lawsuits is affecting every county in this state and the fact that we have gotten unanimous bipartisan support of this legislation as it moves forward is proof that the issue has caught the attention of the entire Senate," Dutton said.

"I look forward to working with Senator Steinberg in the weeks ahead in finalizing legislation that will put an end to these predatory lawsuits, while protecting access of the disabled community."

SB 1186 also would require attorneys to send a notice letter, listing any alleged construction-related violations, at least 30 days before filing a lawsuit.

In addition, the measure would require landlords to disclose whether their buildings or properties are state certified and in compliance with ADA laws.

SB 1186 also hopes to resolve conflicts between state and federal standards, which some believe are adding to the number of lawsuits filed.

It was one in a handful of bills targeting ADA lawsuits, but the only one that gained any traction.

Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, introduced two measures, Assembly Bill 1878 and Assembly Bill 1879, back in February.

AB 1878 would give the state's small businesses an opportunity to correct an ADA violation before a lawsuit can be filed. Once a business has received a written notice of violation, they would be given 120 days to bring their business into compliance.

About 98 percent of California businesses are out of compliance with state and/or federal disability access laws, Gaines noted.

It is the complex and inconsistent regulations that make it difficult for willing business owners to comply with the complicated and ever-changing regulations, and give lawsuit abusers the chance to take advantage of the laws, she said.

"The unfortunate reality is that there are individuals who are capitalizing on the complex access regulations enacted by the state and federal government for personal benefit," Gaines said in February.

"Businesses can be sued for thousands of dollars for simple faults, such as a railing height being off by a centimeters or parking lot striping not being the right shade of a particular color.

"Many times, businesses want to correct the error to allow for more access to their place of business. These frivolous lawsuits are making it harder for the business to come into compliance, especially in this difficult economic environment."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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