Photo by Andrea Tummons

If you own a business that is open to the public, you need to know how to avoid drive-by lawsuits.  In the last decade or so, there has been an increase in litigation based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as ADA..  The ADA and corresponding California Unruh Act require compliance with certain regulations in order to make public places accessible to those with disabilities.  To make sure businesses comply with the regulations, the ADA and Unruh Act provide that a disabled person who has been denied access to a facility can sue the business and collect penalties and attorney’s fees, while demanding that they become compliant.

While the legislation was originally well-intentioned and meant to eliminate physical barriers for Americans with disabilities, its abuse has now become a money-making scheme for unscrupulous plaintiffs and lawyers.  Often the same plaintiff files 50 to 60 lawsuits in a span of one month.  Typically, the plaintiff and lawyer hit businesses in one town like a tornado, leaving the destroyed remains behind as they collect their penalties and attorneys’ fees and sometimes don’t even stop to look back to make sure that the business has actually made the changes and become compliant.  The businesses they have hit end up having to pay somewhere between $4,000 to $14,000 to the plaintiff for settlement, pay their own attorney’s fees and incur the cost of bringing the property up to compliance.  Most businesses are small to medium sized businesses who simply cannot afford such an outlay all at once.

The reason these lawsuits are called “drive-by lawsuits” is because often, the plaintiff and/or lawyer do not happen to come across a business that does not comply with ADA regulations by accident.  They drive around looking for such violations.  The easiest ones to spot without even getting out of the car are violations having to do with accessible parking spots and signs.  They drive around in a town, then all of a sudden several businesses get hit with an ADA lawsuit all at one.

Thus, the easiest way to avoid an ADA lawsuit is to make sure your parking lot is in compliance.  Money is well spent on a contractor who knows the regulations for parking lot striping and signs in order to avoid these types of lawsuits.  Details of what is required can be found at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights’ website for Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act at  www.ada.gov.  If your business has the sufficient number of accessible and van accessible parking spaces that are correctly striped in the right dimensions and the appropriate signs are there on the parking spot and at the entrance(s) to the parking lot, you have less of a chance of being hit with a drive-by lawsuit.

There are hardly any excuses for compliance.  Tenants get sued with the landlord.  Even if the property was built decades ago and was in compliance when it was built, you most likely still have exposure to ADA lawsuits.  The best shield against these lawsuits is to become compliant.  Your money will be well spent avoiding the lawsuits and having peace of mind.

For a better understanding of how drive-by lawsuits occur and who is affected, watch this expose Anderson Cooper did some years back:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-americans-with-disabilities-act-lawsuits-anderson-cooper/

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