New state law prevents abusive ADA lawsuits

9:36 PM, Oct 1, 2012   |    comments
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#14 - Ford's Real Hamburgers - Land Park (Photo Courtesy: Ford's Real Hamburger)

SACRAMENTO, CA - An American with Disabilities Act lawsuit was the last straw for a struggling, longtime burger business.

Ford's Real Hamburgers on Sutterville Road shut down just weeks after the governor signed a new state law that would crackdown on ADA lawsuit abuse.

PREVIOUS STORY: Law bans predatory ADA lawsuits against businesses

Several attorneys have filed an exceptional number of lawsuits based on ADA violations. Attorney Scott Johnson has filed nearly 2,200 of them in federal court.

More often than not, businesses settle after paying thousands of dollars.

Others have no choice but to shut down for good. Ford's, who was sued by Johnson, decided to close its doors.

Texas West BBQ in Sacramento also faced a lawsuit brought by Johnson in 2007. Property owners Louise and M.L. Haynes made the needed changes. But then, in March of this year, they were hit with another lawsuit by another attorney. They say it's frustrating.

"Yes. Because it's very very expensive -- very expensive to do the changes that they want," said Louise Haynes.

The second lawsuit is forcing Texas West BBQ to make more changes to be ADA-compliant. Those changes, including better striping in the parking lot, wider doors, and a larger bathroom, will cost the Haynes nearly $35,000.

"It scares you because it's so expensive and time-consuming," said Louise Haynes.

Gov. Brown just signed a bill co-authored by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, that would prevent frivolous lawsuits. It would ban demand letters. It gives the defendant time to fix the ADA violations. It'll also prevent lawyers from stacking multiple claims to increase pay-outs.

" It prevents what I like to call 'legalized extortion,'" said Travis Hausauer who is co-chair of Californians Against Lawsuit Abuse. His Squeeze Inn Burger restaurant was sued twice by two different attorneys.

" I got sued in court the first time, then I got sued in federal court the second time around," said Haushauer.

Many people believe the state law is a positive step. But some say it won't stop ADA lawsuits because attorneys will continue to file lawsuits in federal court.

"We need to support Dan Lungren's bill going before Congress. it's called the ACCESS bill that would give people a chance to fix the problem before they're sued," said Haushauer.

The ACCESS bill is currently on hold in the Senate. But proponents say it'll spell relief that they desperately need from excessive lawsuits.

Lungren's office released this statement:

"The ADA Act is a landmark civil rights statute. It is time to end the abuse of the A-D-A by a small number of plaintiff attorneys and return it to its rightful purpose of protecting the interests of injured parties and providing access to public accommodations by all Americans."

By Suzanne Phan,
Twitter: @suzannephan


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