February 22, 2019 • By Dennis Beaver
If you are a landlord–or plan to buy rental property–our story should scare you more than just a little, as the last thing you want is to be sued for a violation of the Americans With Disability Act which no doubt you’ve heard of.
And here’s a fact situation that is guaranteed to raise your blood pressure.
You’ve heard the term “Drive By Shooting,” where a car, building or person, is shot at by someone in a moving vehicle, making it often difficult to capture the perpetrator.
But have you ever heard of a “Drive By Lawsuit?”
Sacramento California attorney Cris Vaughan can tell you all about these suits which his law firm defends throughout the state.
“A ‘Drive-By’ lawsuit claims violations of the ADA by a person who does nothing more than drive by business without ever attempting to become a customer and there is no evidence of the individual ever being in their business.
“Business owners must hire an attorney to defend themselves where small and easily curable violations of ADA access requirements on the outside of their business that can be seen when driving by the property.
“Three law firms with less than twenty plaintiffs file the majority of the ADA cases in federal court. Twenty or more cases a month are filed using a single individual. California has a financial reward for the person who brings an ADA lawsuit, even for minor or purely technical violations, like a parking space being an inch too narrow.” Vaughan stated.
At least one individual law firm in California files more than one hundred ADA lawsuits a month using virtually identical language, changing little more than the name and address of the business in a boiler plate complaint. “In many cases, the lawsuit targets a small immigrant or minority owned business.”
Pay Up Now or Pay Thousands to a Lawyer Defending You
“The business either pays the settlement demand– frequently over $10,000–or spends thousands more fighting the lawsuit, or shutting down the business” Vaughan stated in frustration.
Unfortunately, the shakedown usually works, and it did with one of my clients, trying to sell their small motel. We were one of many victims of this incredible abuse of the well-intentioned ADA, until the Federal Courts in California and some other states put a stop to this thievery.
Never Even Set Foot on the Property
An Arizona lawyer and his wheelchair-bound client have used Google Earth to study swimming pool facilities at hotels throughout California.
The ADA requires hotels which have a swimming pool to be accessible to all guests. But how can a guest who is confined to a wheelchair get into a swimming pool?
The ADA requires hotels to install a pool lift to provide access to wheel-chair bound patrons. These lifts are easily visible on Google Earth.
Often city and county building code officers do not inform the owners of this requirement. In my town, they specifically told hotel owners that a lift was not necessary. That was bad, really bad advice.
If a wheelchair bound person checks into or tries to check into a hotel and discovers no lift at the pool, they have suffered a harm according to the ADA. Failure to have a lift is a clear violation of ADA access requirements and hotel guests would be well within their rights to file suit.
“But in these lawsuit, the plaintiff lived in Arizona, never left her home, but claimed an ADA violation because the hotel she saw on Google Earth lacked a chairlift! Her lawyer filed dozens of these questionable lawsuits in California Federal Courts against hotels all over the state!” Vaughan points out.
A Gun to Your Head
“Clients tell me ‘It feels like there’s a gun to your head. ‘Vaughan stated, adding “Many hotels simply settled these suits, paying $5,000 or more to the Arizona lawyer. But then a few attorneys who represented major hotels asked the Courts to dismiss these suits on the grounds of what is called Standing.
“That means, the plaintiff could not show that the lack of a chairlift actually harmed her, as she was never at the hotel, or in California, for that matter. But rejection of these lawsuits by the court came after many hotels just paid up.” he points out, adding, “These types of lawsuits are still going on today,” he concluded.
There is a lot more to the ADA, and next time, with Cris Vaughan we will look at common myths that could cost you big time. His website is adalegaldefense.com and he’s also on You Tube. By spending time there you will learn a lot and just maybe, keep yourself out of ADA lawsuit land.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.