A third bill has been introduced in Congress to reform the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the personal injury lawyers that exploit this federal law.
The bill, introduced by Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, would address abuses like those revealed recently in the Grand Canyon state, where three plaintiffs have brought more than 200 lawsuits against Arizona hotels, retailers, and restaurants alleging ADA accessibility violations. Personal injury lawyers here are using serial plaintiffs, such as David Ritzenthaler, an individual named in more than 500 lawsuits filed this year alone, to generate as many suits as possible.
With ADA lawsuit abuse spreading across the country and three bills now pending in Congress, the question is: have we reached a tipping point for reining in abuse and exploitation of the ADA?
While the ADA was created to provide greater and equal access to Americans with disabilities, personal injury lawyers have been manipulating the well-intentioned law for another purpose: to line their pockets.
Trial lawyers file slews of lawsuits over minor infractions, such as a faded handicapped parking sign, for example. They capitalize on tiny technical variations that don’t actually endanger anyone or make public spaces any less accessible for those with disabilities.
Even worse, those they file against have no chance or responsibility to make a change or correct the violation; they simply have to pay up. This means that even if there is an actual violation, there’s no incentive for businesses to fix it. This law has become a slot machine for personal injury lawyers, and it’s not adequately addressing accessibility.
In California, one of the first states where small businesses received the ADA shakedown treatment, reforms have taken many years and instituted relatively modest changes. The state did enact legislation this year that allows small businesses to correct alleged ADA violations under certain conditions and exempts these businesses from certain minor, technical violations if they are corrected within 15 days of a complaint.
The bill is step in the right direction, but comprehensive reform – at the federal level – would allow small business to correct any access violations before they are subject to a personal injury lawsuit.
The good news is that Arizona leaders have far less patience than their peers in California.
Senator Flake’s bill would provide a true “notice and cure” provision. This stipulation would temporarily freeze any ADA lawsuit for up to 120 days and give property owners the chance to update anything that may not be compliant, ensuring accessibility, and preventing personal injury lawyers from bleeding small businesses for all they’re worth.
We may also see reform from within Arizona. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to file a motion to dismiss 1,624 cases of state-level ADA complaints he labeled as systemic abuse of the judicial system.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that reform is needed to stop the damaging practice of “drive-by” lawsuits targeting small businesses. To do your part, ask candidates where they stand on lawsuit abuse reform. Together, we can all work towards a more just use of our legal system.