Predatory ADA lawsuits fought on Auburn, federal fronts

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Help may be on the way for businesses threatened or already stung by so-called drive-by ADA lawsuits initiated by predatory attorneys. With the realization that lawyers are wrestling revenue away from businesses by filing potentially abusive Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuits for breach-of-access provisions, U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, announced Thursday that he has introduced legislation that could stave off a flurry of civil actions. Auburn has been hard-hit with a string of lawsuits. One list circulated this week at a meeting of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce government affairs-economic development committee, showed 67 different Auburn-area businesses identified as defendants in ADA legal actions. Bruce Cosgrove, Auburn chamber chief executive officer, said Thursday that while ADA requirements are the law and that businesses ultimately have to comply with them, there is a need for greater awareness on what needs to be done and can be done that his business organization hopes to help fill. Plans are already underway for a forum to help business owners and landlords understand some of the major requirements, Cosgrove said. Also on the drawing board is a list that would provide business owners with a list of top ADA requirements. “What they’re going to learn is that there’s so much more they need to know,” Cosgrove said. “Hopefully, this can help reduce the impact of lawsuits.” Under Lungren’s bill – which was made public Thursday in Sacramento – attorneys and clients intending to sue under the act will have to provide notice of ADA violations. Lungren made the announcement at the Squeeze Inn – a “poster” business for the drive to stamp out predatory legal actions against small businesses. A long-time burger business with a loyal following but non-ADA compliant access, the Squeeze Inn was forced to relocate because of a legal action. Lungren’s bill would require an attorney’s notice of legal action to be specific enough that business owners would know how they violated the act and what actions they must take to bring their facilities into compliance. Business owners would provide a written response within 60 days outlining improvements they would make to comply with the ADA. They would then have 120 days to make improvements. “Too often these lawsuits are filed and the accuser takes the settlement money and moves on down the road,” said Lungren, who previously served as state attorney general. “Access for the disabled does not get fixed because the business owner has spent his money on the lawsuit.” The business owner loses out, disabled Americans still can’t patronize the place and only the people bringing the suit profit, he said. Tom Scott, executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said abusive ADA lawsuits do nothing to improve access for the disabled. “By establishing a short window of time for businesses to fix alleged ADA violations without legal action, we can help rid our courts of lawsuits motivated by greed,” Scott said. Cosgrove said that he has learned in discussions with other chambers in other areas that Auburn isn’t the only area dealing with a flood of abusive lawsuits based on ADA law. “Rep. Dan Lungren isn’t alone – there are other legislators trying to do the same thing,” Cosgrove said. “This isn’t just Auburn. We’re not being singled out. But the city hasn’t been bypassed either.”