WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), who is sponsoring the ACCESS (ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services) Act, will testify before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice today on behalf of the bill he says will help stop plaintiffs’ lawyers from “trying to enrich themselves on the backs of the disabled.”
The ACCESS Act, also known as H.R 241, would require an aggrieved person to notify a business of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violation in writing and give the business owner 60 days to provide the aggrieved individual a detailed description of improvements to remedy the violation. Then, the owner would have 120 days to remove the infraction. Failure to meet these conditions would be grounds to further the lawsuit.
The ADA was enacted in 1990 by Congress, and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities.
Calvert told the SE Texas Record that as a property owner himself, he has had to deal with complaints from people who find minor discrepancy in a building or in following the regulations; and instead of being given time to correct the infraction, owners get slapped with lawsuits and “lawyers get rich.”
“We all want to have access (for) the disabled; we just don’t want to make this an excuse for lawyers to sue small business owners,” he said. “Nobody is objecting to making sure that we have access for the disabled.”
Calvert said some of the infractions are very minor, like not having a sign in the right location or neglecting to paint a line in the right way.
Instead of rushing to file lawsuits, Calvert said business owners should be given an opportunity to fix infractions and comply with the law.
“Small businesses are the life-blood of our communities,” U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) wrote in an editorial last year. “The vast majority of them strive to serve their customers to the best of their ability – relying on the ADA as another tool to help ensure that customers with disabilities can enjoy the services that they provide. However, despite their best attempts, certain attorneys and their pool of serial plaintiffs look for minor, easily correctable ADA infractions so they can file a lawsuit and make some cash.”
Operating under modest budgets, Poe said many small businesses take a financial hit and often feel backed into a corner.
“They have few choices: settle, pay fees that match those of lengthy and expensive litigation, or spend time and money to go through the legal process,” he said.
Darren McKinney, director of communications for the American Tort Reform Association, told the SE Texas Record that the association is in full support of the bill.
“Although realistically, being an election year and with the stranglehold that the trial bar has on Senate Democrats generally, one can’t be particularly optimistic about the bill," he said. "But certainly it is needed; the congressman is to be applauded.”
McKinney said small businesses around the country are supportive of the bill because ADA lawsuits “are spreading like kudzu all around the country now.”
Calvert said the issue is not a Republican or Democrat issue, but just a common-sense solution to a problem.
“This is supposed to help people that are disabled, not help some attorney get his kids through college,” he said
But he’s expecting resistance from those “trying to enrich themselves on the backs of the disabled.”
“I don’t think those guys really give a hoot about the disabled; they care about their own bank accounts,” he said.
Calvert has never had a complaint from disabled groups about being given a chance to fix infractions. In fact, people with disabilities want to get the problem fixed to make sure they get access, he said.
“This is the kind of thing that is common-sense stuff, and I think we need to get this passed as soon as possible, he said.