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ADA lawsuit relief on hold in Congress

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POSTED May 20, 2014 1:36 a.m.

Congressional relief to stop serial drive-by American with Disabilities Act litigators from preying on businesses such as the 21 so far slapped with lawsuits in Manteca isn’t coming any time soon.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin on Monday turned to Manteca’s lobbyists in the nation’s capitol, VanSoyc & Associates, to see if any legislative remedies were in the works.

McLaughlin said the city is concerned about the spat of lawsuits being slapped against Manteca businesses over ADA issues. So far, the city has scheduled a free workshop Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m. to educate commercial property owners and merchants about ADA issues and how they could possibly avoid being sued by serial litigators that collect an average of $45,000 per lawsuit based on research by a San Diego law firm. That is on top of the cost to fix alleged ADA violations.

“The city isn’t exempt from ADA lawsuits or possible penalties,” McLaughlin noted.

The city in recent years has spent well over $1.5 million making ADA upgrades on everything from sidewalk curb cuts at intersections and push button doors at the library and elsewhere to a new wheelchair lift at the Lincoln Pool as well as remodeling of the council chambers to make it handicapped accessible to the latest standards.

“We want to avoid that from happening because if we get sued its taxpayer money that is at risk,” McLaughlin said.

Two bills to address the issue submitted by two different Southern California congressmen — Kevin Calvert and Duncan Hunter — have been waiting for consideration in committee for over a year.

Congressman Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, has signed on as a co-sponsor of both bills.

Unlike the State of California’s relief legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012, the two congressional bills would actually help businesses avoid lawsuits.

Both bills would give a business receiving a demand letter for being out of complaint with ADA requirements time to fix the deficiencies to avoid fines at the merchant or property owner’s expense. That luxury is not being given to the 21 Manteca businesses nor the roughly 1,000 California businesses slapped with such suits each year. Scott Johnson, the Carmichael lawyer behind the Manteca ADA lawsuits, has filed more than 3,000 such lawsuits.

The state relief legislation:

• requires attorneys to send a notice letter listing any alleged construction-related violations at least 30 days before filing a lawsuit;

• reduces damages against business owners who correct alleged violations within 30 to 60 days of receiving a complaint; and

• requires landlords to disclose whether their buildings or properties are state certified and in compliance with ADA laws.

Unlike the proposed federal laws, the state legislation doesn’t keep merchants off the hook for punitive damages even if they correct the non-complaint ADA issues.

Several merchants have indicated they plan to approach the City Council about the issue to enlist their support to get legislation in place on the federal level to give businesses a chance to comply without being slapped with punitive damages that could cost a business such as Manteca’s The Hair Company $68,000 in addition to the actual cost of making upgraded ADA improvements.

The City of Manteca Building Safety Division and Manteca Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to stage a free workshop dubbed “ADA Basics for Businesses” on Wednesday, May 21, from 10 to 11 a.m. in the council chambers at the Manteca Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

The workshop is designed for business owners, commercial property owners, real estate professionals, contractors design professionals, commercial business employees and other interested parties.

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