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June 25th, 2012

California Mom ‘n Pops Still Getting Rolled by ADA Racketeers, but Some Protection May Be Coming

California Small business owners are continuing to feel as though they have a target on their back when it comes to ADA litigation, but relief could be in sight.  Most recently, Tina Freeman, the owner of Tina’s Tavern and T’s Lounge in West Covina, California, spoke out about the excessive frivolous lawsuit abuse that she has experienced as a small business owner.  In the past two years, she has been sued four times for alleged ADA violations. 

The first lawsuit, filed in 2011, claimed that Tina’s Tavern did not have a table low enough to accommodate customers in wheelchairs.  But the restaurant did have such a table, and Tina knew it was a bogus lawsuit.  She threatened to go to the media, and within 30 minutes, the attorneys showed up at the restaurant with dismissal papers in their hands.  Freeman is absolutely disgusted by the legal extortion occurring in her home state.  Her own mother has been in a wheelchair since Freeman was 8-years old and Freeman says she “would die before she’d go around filing these lawsuits.  These people are making a living doing this.”

Freeman is not the only California small business owner feeling the pressure.  Del Graessley, the owner of a bar in Baldwin Park, is currently fighting his second ADA-related lawsuit.  He’s been targeted by a person who has filed over 100 diability-access lawsuits, specifically targeting old construction that was built before the ADA regulations went into effect.  Lawyers defending the small business owners have recognized the growing trend and say that plaintiffs will usually ask for anywhere between $4,000 and $10,000 because they know it would cost more for a business to fight the suit than to settle.

While small business owners are trying to figure out some way to fight back in the short term, the U.S. Congress is ready to step in and provide some long term relief.  Earlier this year, ATRA wrote about Senator Dianne Feinstein’s involvement with the issue.  Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) stated, “”I proudly support the ADA, and the ability it has given to people with special needs to have access to the facilities and services they require to lead healthy, productive lives.  However, in today’s difficult economic environment, I am troubled by reports that these lawsuits may unfairly and unnecessarily threaten the viability of some small businesses in our state.”

Representative Dan Lungren (R-Gold River, CA) has championed the small businesses who’ve been targeted even longer than Sen. Feinstein.  He has again introduced federal legislation that would give businesses a “right to cure” violations before a lawsuit is filed.  H.R. 3356 is aimed at curbing the use of so-called demand letters that threaten lawsuits unless alleged violators agree to pay large sums to settle out of court.  The bill requires sending notice of the alleged violation 60 days before a lawsuit can be filed.  The hope is that the proposal will cut down on frivolous lawsuits, many of which are filed by the same attorneys, while giving businesses more tools to meet the ADA standards.

It’s time for Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Lungren to collaborate on a truly bipartisan, bicameral piece of federal reform legislation that will have the support of every policymaker in Washington who isn’t bought and paid for by the parasitic personal injury bar.

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