The wave of Americans with Disability Act lawsuits that plagued Manteca and Ripon businesses over the course of the last year could be stalled if a bill introduced by State Senator Cathleen Galgiani takes effect.
Last week Galgiani, a Stockton Democrat whose 5th Senate district includes all of San Joaquin County in addition to most of Modesto and Riverbank and portions of Galt, introduced legislation intended to reduce frivolous lawsuits against businesses that are often based on technicalities and are not in the spirit in which the law was intended.
By extending the time to correct the deficiencies determined under the Americans with Disabilities Act from 60 days to 120 days and forcing those who plan on filing lawsuits to provide evidence of suffering actual harm, businesses will get a chance to actually comply rather than be forced to pay what some have dubbed an “extortion fee” that many fear will force them out of business.
“The original intent of the ADA was a good one – to ensure businesses provide accommodations to their customers who have disabilities. Many business owners, particularly those in older buildings, have already spent thousands and thousands of dollars on renovations. However, in some cases it is impossible to comply because some buildings were constructed decades before the law went into effect,” Galgiani said in a statement. “The law was not designed to be a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme for predatory lawyers. My motivation for introducing SB 67 is to limit these ‘shakedown’ lawsuits and protect California businesses from exploitation.”
Several downtown Manteca businesses have already done ADA renovations when lawsuits started being handed out. In front of Redi-Mark and the neighboring tailor shop, the step that once led to the two businesses has been replaced by a wheelchair ramp. Anderson’s Mower and Bike replaced the concrete in front of their business so it that was more wheelchair-friendly. And even though they hadn’t yet been served with a notice the MRPS Hall redid its entrance to include a wheelchair ramp and did away with a large portion of the front steps that served as an entrance to the building’s main ballroom for nearly 50 years.
One downtown business owner who asked not to be named said that the bill was going to be good for the community and was definitely something that was needed.
A sense of fear among those who haven’t yet been the target of the lawsuits – filed by former Sacramento lawyer Scott Johnson – still exists because they’re afraid that it will simply paint a target and open the door for a future opportunity.
“This important piece of legislation will reduce the profit incentive to file frivolous lawsuits based on minor and technical deficiencies and allow businesses more time to correct them,” Galgiani said. “The filing of these lawsuits is having a devastating financial impact on businesses that comply with the spirit of the law, but get an ‘A-‘ instead of an ‘A+’.”