In case you missed it, on December 4, 2016, the popular news program 60 Minutes aired a story on the alarming growing number of ADA drive-by lawsuits filed against businesses. A transcript of the story is provided here. Title III of the ADA requires places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, banks, movie theaters and just about any business that sells goods and services to the public, to make their premises accessible to disabled people through a comprehensive and detailed design code called the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
The story, called “What is a Drive-By Lawsuit?,” reported on the staggering number of lawsuits filed under the ADA by disabled individuals who simply drive by a store, restaurant or some other place of public accommodation, spot accessibility issues, such as a handicap parking sign that is a bit too low or a ramp that is a bit too steep, and then sues the store without any warning whatsoever. The story also noted the growing prevalence of “Google” lawsuits, where accessibility issues such as a hotel not having a pool lift, can be observed by plaintiffs using Google Earth. While Title III does not permit a plaintiff to collect cash damages, the 60 Minutes story ends with a cautionary note. Observing that with many state laws providing for cash damages, and many businesses being technically out of compliance with the ADA, “it may not be long before you start hearing about these kinds of lawsuits in a town or city near you.”
Businesses should consider protecting themselves against these lawsuits by removing “red flags” from their premise. Red flags are readily visible accessibility issues such as un-ramped entrance steps (or no other visible means to enter the business with a wheelchair), poorly maintained routes from handicap parking spaces to the store’s entrance or handicap parking spaces with no access aisle.