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Merchant sued despite trying to upgrade ADA

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POSTED July 15, 2014 1:57 a.m.

She did what she was supposed to do. 

She called a “certified access specialist” – an expert trained in spotting Americans With Disabilities Act violations – who came out, observed the ways that her business wasn’t in compliance, and got the written report that showed what needed to be done in order to get everything in legal, working order. 

She thought that’s where the story would end – performing her due diligence and taking the necessary steps to alleviate any concerns that may arise. 

But this particular business owner got sued anyway, and when she voiced her frustration with the process Monday morning at a joint workshop being held between the City of Manteca’s Building Maintenance Division and the Manteca Chamber of Commerce, she was letting her voice be heard to a sizably smaller number of people. 

Some, surmised one man, don’t want to assemble out of fear of making themselves a target. Most of the people who showed up at that first meeting, he said, have all received lawsuit notices by serial litigator Scott Johnson – a Carmichael-based former lawyer who has filed more than 2,000 of these civil rights lawsuits in federal courts throughout California. 

And there’s no white knight that’s going to ride in and save the day on this one. 

Johnson operates by finding older segments of town that don’t typically have the squirreled away bankrolls necessary to fight his demand letters – a practice some professionals have said is flat-out illegal and likened to extortion – and seldom goes after privately owned chain stores. That leaves the small mom-and-pop stores to fend for themselves. 

The politicians are starting to take notice at what this is doing to the communities within their district, but the wheels of that system churn so slowly that any legislation likely intended to target those that are culpable would come long after the disastrous effects have already decimated business landscapes that were skating on thin ice to begin with. 

While there’s no California law that makes it illegal to file the lawsuits that many claim are frivolous, there are actually safeguards built into place and overseen in order to make sure that everything is being followed to the letter of the law. For example, damages in the amount of $4,000 – per infraction, per day – is all that the claimant can put in for when they decided to go the legal route. 

The number can be staggering depending on how out-of-compliance the individual businesses is, and many fear that it will end up forcing small businesses that don’t have that kind of liquid capital to simply pack up – the fight is too lengthy and too expensive and even if a favorable ruling were to be granted it could come too late in the game. 

According to workshop leader Dan Kaiser of Access Service Plus, taking the appropriate steps like hiring a “certified access specialist” actually alleviates some of the fiscal responsibility that the business owner might have to face – cutting each violation’s fiscal accompaniment by half each time an additional step is taken. 

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