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Area leaders searching for ADA support
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Sisters Bonnie Galas and Nadeen Costa snack on Hor doeuvres during Fridays ADA luncheon in Ripon. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Public opinion indicates that business closures related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have gone too far.

Manteca commercial business leader Lucille Harris hosted some 250 guests at her Ripon home for a noon luncheon on Friday in an effort to organize a mass response to “frivolous lawsuits” and legal threats under the Americans with Disabilities Act, most of which have been generated by Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson.

Stockton attorney Mike Babitzke, specializing in defending ADA suits, was the only speaker at the luncheon in the Mello Road almond ranch. He explained the law allows just one violation to cause a judgment that includes multiple attorneys’ fees that must be paid by the defendant that can sometimes reach as much as $100,000.

“I think it’s legal extortion and I want it stopped,” he said.

Standing out at the luncheon was a group of wheelchair-bound residents and local business patrons who have voiced their support for small businesses in Manteca and Ripon. Several have circulated petitions against the ADA actions that have closed at least one business, Barnwood Restaurant. Brad Peters working alone has collected nearly 800 signatures.

U.S. Representative Ken Calvert has introduced legislation designed to help small businesses comply with the ADA law with 13 co-sponsors, including Congressman Jeff Denham.

Calvert said the ADA act was originally created to protect the rights and the access of disabled Americans and not to penalize small business. 

“In recent years we have seen a disturbing trend of frivolous lawsuits being filed against small businesses with the goal of obtaining financial settlements. Our goal should be improving access for disabled Americans to go about their day, not improving access for trial lawyers to the pockets of our small business owners,” the Corona congressman stated in his bill.

Calvert further explained that his proposed legislation would alleviate the financial burden that small businesses are facing while still fulfilling the purpose of the ADA. Any person claiming to be affected by a violation of the ADA would need to provide the owner or operator with a written notice of the violation specific enough to explain the barrier to their access.

Within 60 days the owner or operator would be required to provide the complainant with a description outlining improvements that would be made to address the barrier to their entry. The owner or operator of the business would then have 120 days to remove the infraction. Failure to meet any of the conditions would allow a suit to go forward.

Calvert noted that there are an increasing number of lawsuits brought under the ADA based upon a desire to achieve financial settlements rather than to achieve the appropriate modifications to business structures.

He added that ADA lawsuits are especially prevalent in California. According to the California Chamber of Commerce, the Golden State has 40 percent of ADA lawsuits nationwide. However the state has only 12 percent of the nation’s disabled population. 

“These lawsuits place exorbitant legal fees on small businesses and often times they are unaware of the specific nature of the allegations brought against them,” Calvert wrote.

A number of the luncheon guests said they had expected more speakers to tell of their experiences and who might explain additional guidelines to help them prepare for a letter or a visit from an ADA compliance attorney or from his staff looking for civil compensation.