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Council may ask Congress to reform ADA lawsuits

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POSTED June 1, 2014 11:23 p.m.

Manteca’s elected leaders want businesses to have the opportunity to correct shortcomings in their compliance to the American Disability Act before being sued.

But since it is a federal and state issue the Manteca City Council has no authority.

They can, however, join a grassroots effort to try and pressure Congress into action.

That’s exactly what they intend to do when they meet Tuesday to consider sending letters  to federal representatives in support of House of Representatives Bill 994 known as ‘The ACCESS” or ADA Compliance for Consumer Entry to Stores and Services Act. The bill authored by Congressman Ken Calvert of Southern California and co-sponsored by Congressman Jeff Denman and 12 others has languished in committee for over a year.

At least 21 Manteca businesses are being sued for violation of civil rights by Carmichael-based attorney Scott Johnson for allegedly failing to comply with ADA requirements. They range from access doors failing to comply to handicapped access standards to a chair being left in an aisle in a furniture store and not leaving enough space for a wheelchair  after a customer pulled it out to sit down. Each business is facing potential punitive damages of at least $5,000 if Johnson prevails while at least one — The Hair Company on West Yosemite Avenue — is being slapped with $68,000 in damages. That doesn’t include the cost of any required ADA upgrade.

In all cases, the businesses were not given a chance to comply first with the ADA laws. Johnson brought the violations to their attention and sued them at the same time.

The letter notes for many of California’s small businesses the threat of a lawsuit alone can mean reduced hours, layoffs, limited pay increases for employees or shuttering of a business

The letter details how thousands of such lawsuits are filed in California each year. Based on California Chamber of Commerce statistics, over 40 percent of such ADA lawsuits nationwide are filed in the Golden State.

The proposed law would end the practice of “abusive lawsuits in which unscrupulous attorneys sue businesses seeking quick settlements, not improved access for the disabled.”

The bill would not make businesses immune for lawsuits. Instead it would give business owners and landlords 60 days to provide the aggrieved person with a description outlining the improvements that they will make to address the violation. Then they would have 120 days to remove or fix the violation. If landlords or business owners fail to meet the terms, only then will a lawsuit go forward.

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