There’s a potential $32,000 pay day in Manteca for someone trying to make a living by filing Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits for alleged non-compliance to federal rules.
The legal bonanza is one handicapped space at a Manteca business that municipal Senior Building Inspector Bruce Wungluck declines to identify.
He told the City Council Tuesday that during an inspection he found eight potential violations with one handicapped parking stall. The violations run the gamut from wrong colors, faded paint, non-complying size, and lettering to sign issues. Under federal statutes, someone could try to haul the owner of the business into court in a bid to get the maximum per violation allowed under state law. That’s no less than $4,000 each or $32,000 for the entire parking space.
Councilman Steve DeBrum had the building inspector share the information with the council to underscore the need for the city to do whatever it can to help educate the business community while lobbying Congress to pass legislation that gives property owners and merchants a chance to fix alleged violations before being slapped with punitive damages.
Wungluck in a report noted the California Legislature in 1992 amended the Unruh Act “to provide a violation of the right of any individual under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 shall also constitute violation (of the Unruh Act.)” That has made it possible for plaintiffs to recover actual damages in an amount up three times actual damages for each violation “but in no case less than $4,000 for each and every offense.”
More than 35 lawsuits have been filed against Manteca businesses since March 31 under the auspices of the federal ADA and California Unruh Act.
The plaintiff — Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson — is continuing to file suits on the basis that he was denied full and equal enjoyment of premises due to barriers being present at various businesses. Some of the barriers that have been claimed to exist include non-compliant or insufficient disabled access parking, door hardware, door pressures, and restroom facilities.
While many of the ADA upgrades do not require city building permits some do such as restroom remodels.
That prompted the City Council Tuesday to slash municipal building fees for ADA compliant work by 50 percent through July 1, 2015 in an attempt to help ease the pain for Manteca businesses.
That means ADA work requiring one trip by an inspector will temporarily cost $85, ADA work requiring two trips will cost $110, and those that need three trips will result in a $159 charge.
In the fiscal year that just ended June 30, the city issued five ADA upgrade permits. Had the reduction been in place that would have slashed municipal revenue by $1,180.
The city is anticipating at least 40 ADA related permits to be issued through July 1, 2015. If that happens, municipal revenue will be reduced by $6,850.
The council has sent a letter 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.
The Manteca businesses targeted by Johnson 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.